June 26, 2022


Elvis is 2 hours and 40 minutes of camera swoops and dissolves and wipes clearly intended to evoke not only Luhrmann’s own past work but Elvis’s own physical gyrations. This thing never slows down to the speed limit, not even for a second. The problem is that after 10 minutes of dazzlement—the sets and costumes and cinematography are absolutely gorgeous—the whole project starts seeming crazily desperate rather than refreshingly exhilarating. By the time the first hour has passed, you feel simultaneously overstimulated and under-entertained. By the time the second hour mark has come, you start wondering where Fat Elvis is already so you can see the end coming. And when it’s over, you may feel like you never want to go into a movie theater ever again.

Aside from Luhrmann’s welcome insistence that Elvis’s use of African-American musical tropes was born out of love and respect rather than an act of cultural appropriation, he has absolutely nothing of interest to say about Presley and clearly has no clue what the man was about. That is no sin—Elvis’s best biographer, Peter Guralnick, points out that it’s very hard to get a bead on Elvis because he “never kept a diary, left us with no memoirs, wrote scarcely any letters, and rarely submitted to interviews.” Still, if you’re going to make a biopic, you have to present a compelling character we’re willing to follow for the length of the movie—and Elvis here is a total cipher.

Read the whole thing.

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