Elvis | The desire for a great show


Nine years later The Great Gatsbythe director of Red Mill Baz Luhrmann offers a “Shakespearean” vision of Elvis Presley’s life, through that of Colonel Parker, the king’s famous impresario. Starring Austin Butler, whose performance won unanimous approval at the Cannes Film Festival, and Tom Hanks, Elvis brings the icon to life on the big screen.

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Marc-André Lussier

Marc-André Lussier
The print

Recognized for his flashy approach to directing, thanks to films such as Strictly for dance, Romeo + Juliet And Red MillBaz Luhrmann is part of a generation that grew up listening to the hits of David Bowie, Elton John and Michael Jackson, rather than those of the singer of love me Tender. For the Australian filmmaker, the desire to make a feature film about Elvis Presley’s life arises above all from the exceptional performance of the artist on stage, but also from the social context in which he has evolved.

“In the performances, Elvis was a force of nature, remembers Baz Luhrmann during a meeting with the virtual press in which The print participated. I resisted for a long time the desire to tell his life in the cinema, until I realized that a great idea deserved to be explored through him. To understand today’s world, one has to go back to the 50s, 60s and 70s. In that period a thirst for renewal was established, which was notably crystallized in a convergence of different cultures in music. What makes Elvis’ life a tragedy is the way he has been exploited. ”

Amedeo per model

Cogiting this feature film for five years, the director wanted to take a “Shakespearean” approach to go beyond the traditional biographical drama. In his eyes it remains the greatest model of its kind Amedeo, a masterpiece that Milos Forman created almost 40 years ago. Similarly to the director of Flight over a cuckoo’s nest told, bringing to the screen the work of Peter Schaffer, the story of Mozart through the vision of his “rival” Salieri, Baz Luhrmann has chosen to tell that of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) borrowing the point of view of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). The latter managed the singer’s career by squeezing the lemon to the maximum.


Tom Hanks, Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler at the presentation ofElvis at the Cannes Film Festival

“There is also that Elvis himself was a man of few words, the director specifies. Rather, he revealed himself through his songs and his actions. He was also very sensitive, very worried, but he exploded on stage. ”

Having emerged at a time when America was in turmoil, Elvis Presley can hardly be separated from the political and social context of an era when demands for greater social justice, including the recognition of civil rights for African Americans, were beginning. to be heard loud and clear.

“Politics is not the subject of the film, but it is certain that it is always there, implicitly,” points out Baz Luhrmann. It’s impossible to discuss Elvis Presley’s life without talking about segregation and racism. He was at the center of this reality. By meeting people who knew him at Graceland, I could see how Elvis was a spiritual being, very attracted to gospel music. In a short time tragic things also happened on the political level: the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King. Robert Kennedy was assassinated while Elvis was filming the television special marking his return to music. ”

Austin Butler, great resource

Above all, Baz Luhrmann wanted to make Elvis’s life a great movie show. He practically made it a vocation.

“I carry within me a passion for cinema that comes from my childhood,” he says. I love this idea of ​​bringing strangers together in a dark room and having them share common emotions. I almost make it my mission, especially with what we have been through in the last two years. ”


Enter Austin Butler and Tom Hanks Elvis

Aware that his flamboyant approach cannot always be unanimous (the criticism the day after the launch ofElvis at the Cannes Film Festival they were quite contrasting), the director is however certain of a great resource: Austin Butler.

“When I first met Austin, he had been living with Elvis in his head for quite a while. To the point that today I find it hard to say if it was really me who chose it. It’s so big. With him I did all the possible and imaginable tests. Everyone will have their own opinion on this film and it is not for me to express one, but I can say unequivocally that Austin’s performance is impressive. ”

For the new generations

The director also knows very well that by bringing to the screen the life of an icon that still holds so much importance in the American collective imagination, even 45 years after his death, he exposes himself to the complaints of diehard Elvis Presley admirers. .

“I understand the emotions of Elvis fans. He has opened so many doors that I have given myself the mandate to tell the story of him and that of Colonel Parker to the new generations. But I didn’t make this movie to tell them they should have loved it as much as their parents did. ”

Elvis comes out in theaters on June 24th.


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