Elvis is resurrected in the most excessive, personal and funny 'biopic' possible
Does not exist genre more boring than the biopic. Films based on the biographies of well-known people tend to accumulate all the evils of an academic, stiff and risk-free cinema. Prefabricated works made by and to celebrate world stars with legions of fans who will pay admission to see how they have shaped the lives of their idols. Music stars could even have a subgenre of their own. They are almost always white hagiographies, which even repeat the same narrative arc: childhood, adolescence, achievement of the dream, honeys of success, fall into hell and final redemption. The hero's journey in celebrity version.
the zenith of the nonsense of biopic he made it Bohemian Rhapsody, a film as poorly edited as it is morally questionable (Freddie Mercury turned idiotic when he succumbed to his homosexual desires). In it were all the evils of the current biopic. The whitening of the image against the real story. The drugs appeared almost on the rebound, justified and taken solely by Mercury, not by the rest of the group members (producers of the film and still alive and receiving benefits from the commercial hit). It also suffered from a type of interpretation that tends to be the focus of any film based on real life: a hard imitation, bordering on parody that, as soon as it does not fall into the hands of a great actor, ends up looking like a performance of Your face sounds to me. This is what happened to Rami Malek's Freddie Mercury, who seemed to lose his teeth in a gag worthy of Tuesday and Thirteen, when what ended up falling for him was an undeserved Oscar for best actor.
That's why a job like Elvis surprises. A film that tells the life of the most popular singer in the history of the United States and that not only does not fit the mold of the biopic, but also skips it to the bullfighter to bet on an excessive, free, schizophrenic and rabid style. Elvis is, above all, a work of an author, Baz Luhrmann. Whoever doesn't like Moulin Rouge or his Romeo and Juliet shouldn't even try it, because Luhrmann is wearing his pants off. In his head, Elvis's life is a carousel of colors, musical numbers, wild and crazy rhythm, time jumps and excessive characterizations. A film that drives me crazy at times, but that in others, and there are many, manages to be the best possible version to tell a story like that of The King.
Of course it is a whitewashed version, that drugs are still something almost taboo, and that the figure of Elvis is hardly questioned beyond showing his infidelities to his wife. But Luhrmann builds a story with which he wants to talk about something. Elvis is constructed as a metaphor for the state of the art. Part of the film is built on a dilemma: whether music should be political or harmless entertainment. Luhrmann gets wet, and makes it clear that all work is political, including his, and that if Hollywood agrees to bow down, kneel before the conservatives and the powerful, there will only be a reactionary discourse that the extreme right will take advantage of.
Elvis Presley made a star by being a white singer influenced by black music at a time when rights for the community were being fought in the streets. Luhrmann's biopic returns again and again to the same idea, and that is that perhaps he should have been more explicit, more committed. Of course, it exempts him from guilt. For this he blames his manager, Colonel Parker, a hypercharacterized Tom Hanks. It is he who always convinces him that it is better not to speak, better not to raise his voice, not to mean anything. That will haunt Elvis forever.
Luhrmann also talks about the current moment in cinema and builds an auteur blockbuster for theaters. At one point, when Elvis is at his lowest point, he manages to resurrect under the rusty and destroyed symbol of Hollywood. He makes a case for art that can move, rally the masses, and speak of something important without betraying oneself. It is a statement of intent. The director hadn't shot a movie in years, he could have bowed to the demands of the industry, and yet he has made a work so personal that it begins with the Warner Bros symbol written in rhinestones on an Elvis belt. Two frames are enough to recognize the director of him, and that is a lot in a film that could have been a prefabricated and innocuous biopic.
Luhrmann continues to show that he shoots musical scenes like no one else. The moment when Elvis breaks the rules in the segregated concert is exciting, pure electricity, just like that climax that is the Christmas concert. This is helped by Austin Butler's interpretation, less aware of imitating the singer and more of transmitting something similar to the sexual energy that Elvis gave off. A sexual energy that is also exploited in the film, which makes it clear that women and men felt orgasms when they saw him act and move his hips and legs in a society where any hint of eroticism was punished.
As always in his cinema, many moments border on the tacky or directly fall into kitsch. In fact, already the chosen point of view, that of the voiceover of the shellfish manager who sees his life go by in a daydream before dying, gives him carte blanche for many visual excesses that border on or fall into the ridiculous. But he always manages to come out afloat and move again. One thinks that it's a good thing that there are authors like Luhrmann and movies like Elvis, so aware that they're going to like it as much as they annoy it.