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Film Of The Week: Manufacturing Elvis

MARIA DUARTE enjoys a biopic that hits some right notes

Elvis (12A)
Directed by Baz Lurhmann

“WITHOUT me there would be no Elvis Presley,” insists Colonel Tom Parker, his lifelong manager in Baz Lurhmann’s visually spectacular biopic of the King which is unexpectedly viewed through the eyes of the man who discovered him.

The Colonel (Tom Hanks), who wasn’t a colonel and whose name wasn’t Tom or Parker but Dutch immigrant, Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, was a showman and a carnival barker who was seeking the one great act that would make him a mint.

He hit the jackpot at the Louisiana Hayride in 1955 when he marvelled at the effect Elvis (Austin Butler) had on the women in the audience: “It was the greatest carnival act I had ever seen.”

As well as examining their complicated relationship which spanned over 20 years, the film looks the US in the 1950s, 60s and 70s through Elvis’s music and his cultural impact against the backdrop of segregation, racism and the civil rights movement.

It shows an impoverished Elvis growing up in a black neighbourhood of Tupelo Mississippi where he was inspired by early rhythm and blues and gospel music he later melded with country music.

His infamous gyrating hips, which earned him the “Elvis the pelvis” label, he was perceived as a perverse and corrupting act in the south. and was threatened with jail for indecency and breaking segregation laws.

Australian Lurhmann delivers a complex drama with superb concert scenes enlivened by a remarkable performance from Butler whose charisma just oozes off the big screen.

Butler captures much of the essence of Elvis without descending to mere impersonation. An thorough performance perhaps reminiscent, in its dedication and focus, of Joaquin Phoenix multiaward-winning role as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.

Hanks is extraordinary as “Parker” — virtually unrecognisable at times — in one of his rare villainous roles, but just as in Road to Perdition he makes his character — this time, a controlling manipulator — almost likeable.

In many ways Parker was an innovator with a sharp eye for a quick buck. He did invent merchandise, satellite global concerts as not insignificant income streams.

Elvis’s last years were spent as a Las Vegas resident cash-cow — a sad if apt epitaph for the “American dream.”

Out in cinemas from Friday.

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