ELVIS, a film by JOHN CARPENTER (Shout/Shock DVD)

 |   |  1 min read

ELVIS, a film by JOHN CARPENTER (Shout/Shock DVD)

The lives of musicians (The Jazz Singer, The Glenn Miller Story, Till the Clouds Roll in 1946 about Jerome Kern) were an early fascination for film makers -- but most bio-flicks skirted lightly around any failings the central character may have had.

This 1979 film, two years after the death of its subject, didn't exactly dig deep in Presley's character flaws but offered just enough hints of his insecurities and emotional shortcomings to set it apart from the bio-flick formula of emblematic moments linked by songs.

As Elvis, the young Kurt Russell is close enough to a benign doppelganger at some points to be utterly persuasive when he is on stage (miming to effectively-Elvis vocals by Ronnie McDowell) and off stage he brings a performance which moves from youthful enthusiasm into an adult sullenness and emotional withdrawal which is equally convincing.

Director Carpenter -- here for the first time with Russell, the two would enjoy a long paring, notably with Escape From New York -- lays out the story arc in those emblematic moments (Sun Studio, meeting the Colonel, the death of his mother [played by Shelley Winters], army days, Hollywood boredom, marriage to Priscilla, the retreat to Graceland with the Memphis Mafia). But he also allows peripheral characters to come centrestage at telling points as Presley's life changed.

The story ends with his triumphant debut in Las Vegas in 1968 (the earlier televised "Comeback" is ignored) so the separation from Priscilla is only hinted at and the slow decline into pils and bloated excess is avoided.

There would be more brutal bio-pix of musicians (and indeed of Presley) to follow but Carpenter's film -- here with bonus interviews with Carpenter and Russell -- loosened the cap on the bottle.

Today it looks a little dated, but it remains one of the most successful bio-pix of a musician, and certainly one of the better ones about Elvis, a man who had a story to tell. 

Like this? Then check out more Elvis at Elsewhere, and this film if you have a sense of humour about the Presley story.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film articles index

CHASING TRANE; THE JOHN COLTRANE DOCUMENTARY a doco by JOHN SCHEINFELD (Rhino DVD/BluRay)

CHASING TRANE; THE JOHN COLTRANE DOCUMENTARY a doco by JOHN SCHEINFELD (Rhino DVD/BluRay)

If 1967 was a great year in rock music – debut albums by Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Velvet Underground and others, and of course Sgt Pepper's – it was a bad year for jazz. In July... > Read more

PRIME ROCKS: OASIS - SUPERSONIC, a doco by MAT WHITECROSS

PRIME ROCKS: OASIS - SUPERSONIC, a doco by MAT WHITECROSS

This two-hour doco screening in the Prime Rocks series on December 5 was made by the team behind the moving Amy Winehouse film . . . with Noel and Liam Gallagher as executive producers, given... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Will McGrath of Jackal

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Will McGrath of Jackal

Late last year Auckland band Jackal released their fourth album since 2009 (fourth!) and again offered it as a free download from bandcamp. Because Elsewhere took a well-earned break around... > Read more

AOTEAROA MUSIC AWARDS 2020 NOMINEES: I'd like to thank . . .

AOTEAROA MUSIC AWARDS 2020 NOMINEES: I'd like to thank . . .

Now to be known as the Aotearoa Music Awards (AMA, same initials as the American Music Awards unfortunately), the annual awards for New Zealand music of all persuasions -- from alternative to... > Read more