When I was 16 one of my first jobs was valet parking cars at the Hawaiian Village Resort in Tampa, Florida. As it was close to the old Tampa Stadium, and the Buccaneers had just come to Tampa, I worked every Sunday game day. One day a large man in an even larger car pulled up. As he handed me his keys he told me to “put it where you can see it, son.” I moved an older Volkswagen from the front row directly in front of the Valet stand to the side of the Ramada and put his Cadillac in the vacated spot. After the game – I don’t have to tell you it was a Buccaneer’s loss since the team lost their first (24) games – he returned to the Valet stand and handed me his ticket. He seemed please that I really only had to walk across the driveway to retrieve his car. When he got in he handed me a $5 bill – that was HUGE money in 1976 and got into his car. Almost as an aside he asked me, “Do you like Elvis, son?” When I replied that I did, he pulled an envelope out of his glove compartment, reached in and pulled out what appeared to be tickets. He handed them to me without a word, rolled up his window and drove off. They were tickets. Tickets to see Elvis Presley at St. Petersburg’s Bay Front Center on February 14, 1977. Wow! Oh, did I mention that my very first concert was the King?
In his garish hotel room in Las Vegas, the man known as the Colonel falls to the ground, a victim of his bad heart. As he hovers between life and death, he begins to tell his tale. A tale about a young man from Memphis, Tennessee whose love of gospel music led him on a path of success that really has never been duplicated. That young man? Elvis Aron Presley.
Much has been written about Elvis Presley, from his over-doting mother to his young bride to his weight, but nothing you can find on the page can compare to Baz Luhrmann’s visual achievement ELVIS. We discover that Elvis’s love for gospel music came at a young age, when he would attend revivals and “let the spirit” take over. It is also at these revivals where he studied, and mastered, movements that would soon earn him the nickname “the Pelvis.” It is by chance that Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks), a former carnival barker, happens on Presley during a performance on the radio show “Louisiana Hayride.” If the Colonel knows anything, he knows what the public wants and his eyes tell him that soon every young woman in America will want Elvis Presley.
As played by Butler, Elvis is shy and polite, almost unaware of the impact he is having on the youth of America. However, when his gyrations threaten to lose him work, and the Colonel implores him to become the new, “nice” Elvis, he rebels, realizing that it’s his entire body, not just his voice, that conveys a song.
As his success grows, the Colonel spreads his client thin: public appearances, motion pictures and the then un-heard of business of merchandise. T-shirts, toys, buttons…nothing is too tacky to stick Elvis’ name on. When he questions the Colonel selling buttons that read “I HATE ELVIS,” he is told not to worry, as he’s getting a piece of that sale as well. And a piece is really all he got. It is well documented that the Colonel often took 50% of Elvis’ earnings, feeling that he’d earned them.
The film covers most of the major events in Elvis’ life – the rise to fame, his induction into the Army – when I was stationed in Germany I had an occasion or two to eat in the Elvis Presley Mess Hall in Friedberg, – his marriage to Priscilla, the 1968 Comeback Special and his sad, last years. No matter the moment, Butler does an amazing job of conveying the Presley of the time. This isn’t the impersonator who entertained at your last holiday party, this is a performance I’d liken to Jamie Foxx in “Ray” or Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Hanks is equally good, allowing the audience to see behind his dead eyes into the soul of a man with literally no past.
You would expect nothing less than the musical numbers to be perfectly staged by the director of “Moulin Rouge” and you would be right here. Whether it’s the local fairgrounds or the studios of NBC, they jump off the screen with the same energy the room must have felt under Presley’s spell.
February 14, 1977. Among a multitude of screams from the audience, Elvis looks out into the crowd and reminds us that the show isn’t over yet. “So,” he says, “until we meet again…” He then performed “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and then the show was over. Elvis had left the building. But not really. Thanks to ELVIS, the King will NEVER leave the building!