Elvis Presley was deeply influenced by the gifted African American musicians in life, so much so that he “borrowed”—while others say he stole—their style, their swagger, nay their essence, and transformed it into a “presentable” state for the young, white kids of his generation. It’s on record that Muhammad Ali and Elvis became friends and that many of The King’s musical idols were men and women of color.

But back to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis,” which at the time of this writing had earned an estimated $30.5 million (in weekend ticket sales) tying with “Top Gun: Maverick,” which also reported $30.5 million in sales.

It’s hard to find any music or pop culture expert that does not know Elvis and since his death, he’s been shaped into an almost mythological figure in the history of popular music.

What makes Luhrmann’s “Elvis” so delicious is that it’s made by Luhrmann. And to know this director’s work it’s not a surprise that this film is energized and packed with eye and ear candy, making the 2-hours-and-39-minutes spent in this world utterly enjoyable.

Luhrmann, you might remember, is the visual genius behind the film “Moulin Rouge!” which later was turned into a Broadway musical.

In his new film, Luhrmann does not hold back, tapping into the Elvis of our collective memory, making the music the star and stepping into the history, the roots of the music which was inspired by African Americans.

In print, Luhrmann made it clear that he would not step over the facts of the matter. “I can’t overstate enough: you can’t tell the story of Elvis Presley without telling the story of Black American rhythm and blues,

Pentecostal gospel,” Luhrmann said. “It’s just completely woven in there. But I think there have been tellings of the Elvis story where that’s just kind of touched on lightly or expunged.”

Austin Butler is the 30-year-old actor who plays Elvis and he does a tremendous job, even down to Elvis’s Southern drawl. You can’t say that he looks like the legend but we do feel his passion as he tries to tap into the spirit of the man.

Luhrmann was determined to capture how Elvis, the young version, the one that thrust his hips and shook his legs like they were jelly, developed the confidence to perform like the African American musicians he was around.

Elvis’ transformation is now legend, but when he first stood up and took the stage, he was controversial and often risked being arrested. But you have to appreciate how the equally flamboyant Luhrmann chooses to shoot the images of the women in Elvis’s early shows, exploding into spontaneous screams, throwing underwear on stage, and fainting from the excitement of watching his pelvic thrusts.

In the beginning, we see the boy version of Elvis sneaking into an African American tent-show revival, where the sounds of gospel fused with the wail of the blues. It was in this world that he heard the legendary Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.) sing “That’s All Right Mama” but in a slow, high, blues way.

Later, we watch what Elvis did with the stolen blues—maybe ‘borrowed’ feels better, but this film (at least) doesn’t shy away from the obvious racial divide that was part of this country’s landscape during this period. The movie follows Elvis’ career after he exploded in the mid-’50s, showing the ups and downs and the escapes from the law and angry mobs. When he starts to work with his manager Col. Parker (Tom Hanks) he repackages him as “the new Elvis” and in 1958, he encourages him to join the Army as a way to clean up his image. While stationed in Germany, Elvis meets the underage teenage Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge).

There’s a lot of material about Elvis to cover and no film could show it all. In fact, Luhrmann smartly compresses most of the 1960s into a two-minute montage, looking at his life like it was one of his movies.

Act two slides us into 1968 with Elvis’s comeback special and the drama of backstage politics in which Parker promises NBC a Christmas special.

Act three is set in Las Vegas during Elvis’ five-year residence at the International Hotel and now you might understand why the city has so many mock Elvis impersonators. Here’s where the cliché was most likely born.

Here’s this former rebel who is now embracing the normality of Middle America, and of course he’s using drugs the whole time. Luhrmann’s vision of the Vegas years, with Elvis in his trademark white suit and his bigger-than-life manager Col. Parker, who had the vision to insert him into this setting, captures a period in America’s history beautifully.

Was Las Vegas Elvis’ prison? Well, it might seem that way since his manager, Parker, stuck him with a horrible contract because he needed Elvis performing at the International to pay off his own gambling debts. He didn’t care about the singer’s mental health or his health at all. He couldn’t have missed the demise of Elvis who became a pill-popping apparition of himself. So now, we begin to (sadly) understand that Elvis was “caught in a trap,” and Butler delivers a performance of an aging and deeply sad Elvis, who rediscovered success but lost everything, perfectly.

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9 Comments

  1. What a deceitful title to a racist article saying Elvis stole black music. Elvis grew up poor in the segregated south in black neighborhoods. It’s as if you ya’ll are desperate to claim his success as yours and hate him for the success at the same time. It is ridiculous to claim his sex appeal, his personality and magnetic character, and dance moves resulting from feeling the music as somehow a steal from black culture. Elvis was always authentically himself. If you want to say he was influenced by black culture that would be more accurate. But he was white and was just as influenced by white culture as he was country music . Seriously, black America, just stop. Elvis was the first to mix different genres to form a unique sound. He combined country, blues, gospel and rockabilly to form a new sound. It wasn’t black, it wasn’t blues, and it was not gospel. It was a varying combination of genres and the sums of his experience unique to only Elvis. Let’s not forget his voice, his mischievous twinkle and infectious laugh and humor. His fashion was his own. Last bit not least, Elvis was a beautiful, gorgeous man. He did not steal or borrow. Elvis was authentically and unapologetically Elvis even at its own peril. So get over it black America. Ya’ll ate being racist fools.

    1. Well said the idiot who wrote this article should be sacked he/she can’t even do simple homework on a iconic person with so much information to cheat from what a racist sleaze

    2. This is the Worse Review I have Ever Read ! Elvis Did Not Steal Anything He was and is The Greatest And Most Giving Entertainer To Have Walked This Planet !? This Review Sucks and It’s Wrong on All Counts! Your Review Is Racist And Wrong ! You Havre Not Watched The Movie ! Elvis Loved All People and Never Stole Anything This Review Sucks Sucks ! Australian News You Suck ! Do your research before You write shit !

    3. BB King said, “Elvis didn’t steal anything. Everyone has the right to add to or take from music that’s already out there………Had he lived there would have been no end to his inventiveness”

      What would BB King know compared to this goofball who wrote this?…Oh yeh, BB King lived it…..

  2. You could say Elvis grew up a poor black child like Steve Martin in the jerk.
    Elvis was never racist or sole anything. It was already a part of him.

  3. Australian News Fire The person who wrote this Review Elvis did not Steal Anything It was a part of him if you knew who you were writing about ! If you watch the Movie The Movie Shows He STOLE NOTHING ! Do Your Research You Suck !

  4. Disturbed people still perpetuate racism in American music because they’re ignorant. Nothing else.

  5. Anyone of any race who asserts that Elvis was a racist who “stole” Black music knows not Elvis, American popular music history, the United States in the 1950s, nor Black American musicians contemporaneous with Elvis. Is, in a word: Ignorant.

  6. Well said everyone.
    He obviously didn’t do his homework or simply knows nothing about music and the history of Rock & Roll. Definitely nothing about Elvis’s roots and individuality. As someone said it was not only his amazing talent, incomparable voice and delivery of a song but it was also the the human side. He was generous to a fault and gave of himself back to his fans to the point that it killed him. Long live the King!

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