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Austin Butler recreates ‘The King of Rock and Roll’: Elvis. 

The best part of the movie is Austin Butler, says Ramandeep Mahal, about  Baz Luhrmann's film, Elvis

So, the best part of the movie is Austin Butler. He simply nailed it! One wonders how he managed to replicate the accent of the original King. Elvis is directed by Baz Luhrmann, who is known for directing The Great Gatsby. There have been many movies and T.V shows about the ‘King of Rock and Roll, but this one is definitely different from the other ones you have seen before. Austin Butler plays the titular role and he is the real revelation here. I have seen Austin Butler in movies like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Aliens in the Attic and a couple of T.V shows. Initially, I thought he was just some pretty face trying to pull off Elvis but that is certainly not the case. Austin Butler annihilates this role; physically and vocally. He embodies Elvis Presley throughout the different phases of the singer’s life with panache and accuracy.

There is also Tom Hanks with the prosthetics playing the role of Colonel Tom Parker as Elvis’s manager. His role is a kind of a unwanted distraction but it is also essential for the movie as the narration of the film happens largely told through his eyes. Although Elvis often refers to him as ‘admiral,’ Colonel Tom Parker is not his true name. The intrigue surrounding his background is used to create a somewhat foreboding effect, although it is never completely explained. If we paid too much attention to him, he may have taken over the movie.

The screenplay is credited to Baz Luhrmann and three other writers who had collaborated with him on previous projects. The movie is made in a Baz Luhrmann’s signature style which also saves it from mediocrity and ‘commonness’. Somehow the movie is a bit of a muddle, but what keeps the movie alive is that Butler keeps himself vibrant throughout. One could actually see Butler present Elvis as the bad boy and then transform to a parody of himself later in his life. The subject matter is largely symphonic, moving from fifties to seventies; and sometimes back to the thirties.

We see that Elvis’s life was not the easy charmed existence that has been projected on the silver screen or in journals and magazines. I wasn’t aware that he had a twin brother who died early, and that he was traumatized and haunted by this tragedy. He shares a more comfortable relation with his mother, played by Helen Thompson in contrast to his father (Richard Roxburgh). He grows up in Tupelo, in rather dire conditions, then moves to the recording studio at just 19 years of age. There is one tiny, if-you-blink-it-you-miss-it scene that shows that Elvis spent some time in the army and a bit of reel-time spent on his relationship with Priscilla (Olivia Dejonge).

I feel that the film could have addressed and focused on more issues related to the life of this celebrated music icon like his first meeting with Priscilla and the growth of their relationship. In a conversation with a colleague, who is also an avid movie watcher, we agreed that the audience needed to have a deeper insight into the life of the singer. This depth was sadly missing in the film. The scenes just wing past the viewer more like a linear narrative where past events are strung together, making the audience believe that the event has already occurred. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when Elvis steps out in a bright pink suit, heavy eye makeup and glistening pompadour. A man in the audience shouts a homophobic slur, but after a few bars that man’s date and every other woman in the room is screaming her lungs out. The influence of black people and their music on this rock & roll icon’s repertoire, is heavily featured, which is a big plus point of the film. The film takes the viewer to the masses Elvis attended as a child and gives a peek into the 'blues' singers who formed the foundation of his singing. We get glimpses of artists like Big Momma Thornton (Shonkah Dukure) and his friendship with B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). There is a scene where Elvis and B.B. King watch the live performance of Little Richard. The friendship between the two characters is what is to be admired during that era.

Butler is a fantastic Elvis impersonator because, like the real Elvis, he transforms from a truck driver to a musical icon. Butler performs the early songs and lends tremendous fire to a performer who is just about to leave the world all messed up, although Presley’s own voice was utilized in the film’s latter half. It does not matter if you are an Elvis film, what matters is Butler bringing the singer to life. So, I recommend the movie giving it 8.5 out of 10 mostly on the basis of Butler’s performance and Luhrmann’s contribution as a director, producer and story writer.

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Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Guru Nanak Khalsa College Yamunanagar. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.

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