Baz Luhrmann, director of The Great Gatsby (2013) returns with a biopic about Elvis Presley, the king of rock’n’roll. Born in 1935 in Missisippi, the one who was nicknamed “The King” died at 42 years old. The already grandiose career of the artist ended too soon, before he had time to give a single concert in Europe. The singer’s roots, born in Memphis – the city of blues and gospel – permeate all of his music, as Baz Lurhmann explains:
“It’s because Elvis was a real sponge that he very quickly became this country genius. The film tries to show how a child grows up in a community. How he somehow absorbed music through contact with extraordinary black musicians who were not yet known, like BB King” Baz Luhrmann
His early death made Elvis an icon, and 45 years later his songs are still adored. It would have sold between 600 million and 1 billion records, a record in the history of music. Baz Luhrmann’s bias has been to trace the King’s career through the eyes of his impresario, the manipulative and cynical Colonel Tom Parker, played on screen by Tom Hanks. The star is played by Austin Butler, who immersed himself in his character for two years to interpret him as faithfully as possible.
What is “Elvis” about?
Baz Luhrmann retraces the life and musical work of Elvis Presley by exploring the complex relationship and relationship he has with his mysterious agent, Colonel Tom Parker. Based on a script covering a period of twenty years, the film follows the singer’s rise to fame until his downfall, in an America plagued by cultural and social upheavals that lead him to lose of his innocence.
The opinions of our critics
Murielle Joudet, film critic at Unbreakable : “The film has a secret: it’s Austin Buttler”
If she does not hide her hostility to the work of director Baz Luhrmann, Murielle Joudet recognizes that the film enjoys a certain success, carried in part by its main actor: “I came out with my little reviewer thinking, ‘Baz Luhrmann still isn’t good,’ but the movie has a secret, it’s Austin Butler.”
Critics deplore the overrated aspect of Colonel Parker played by Tom Hanks, equipped with multiple prostheses in order to faithfully restore the physical appearance of the manager. An aesthetic choice that lacks relevance according to her, because we know that most spectators do not know what it looked like. Conversely, she notes that“Austin Buttler on the contrary has no prosthesis. If I do not explain this mystery to myself – given the logic of the American biopic – I find that it is the great strength of the film.”
Murielle Joudet praises the performance of the American actor who confided that he immersed himself in the King’s recordings for many months, going so far as to train his voice to interpret the star’s songs: “Butler is brilliant, he doesn’t try to imitate, on the contrary he is completely disengaged, he hardly plays. It’s still very rare to see an actor who ‘underplays’. The heart of the film’s reactor is him. And we feel it all the more that around, we have the fat of Baz Luhrmann.
“Me, I really had the impression of seeing a trailer for a film that didn’t want to start.”
If the critics as a whole are full of praise for the performance of Austin Buttler, they are however much more nuanced on the rest of this production. And denounce in particular the aesthetic overload that weighs on the story: “It feels like Baz Luhrmann has swallowed it all. There are split screens, overlays, cameras doing loops.” Critics see it as a “formal puke” mixing cinematic styles : “We think of De Palma, of Scorsese, there is a bit of the energy of many filmmakers that Luhrmann spits out here.” This aesthetic bloated with influences and devoid of coherence contributes to weighing down the film which is struggling to get off the ground, according to Murielle Joudet: “I felt like I was seeing a trailer for a movie that wouldn’t start. That’s Luhrmann, a kind of kitsch, but completely degenerate, baroque.”
Despite the heaviness that she underlines, Murielle Joudet recognizes in this Elvis a singular energy in terms of production: “What should a biopic restore? An accent, facial expressions? No, it must restore an energy. And the energy of Elvis, it ends up arriving.”
Théo Ribeton, head of the culture section at Stylist and criticism to Unbreakable : “The intelligence of the film is not to try to make an Elvis look like Elvis, because it’s impossible.”
For Théo Ribeton, the legend embodied by Elvis is too great to attempt an identical reproduction, which would be impossible and could have caused the film to fail: “The very great intelligence of the film is played on the fact that Baz Luhrmann understood that we could not do Elvis, because Elvis is too divine a figure for the biopic. We all have in mind his face, his voice, the way he moves. Trying to make an Elvis look like Elvis is impossible.”
The success of the film would therefore depend on the angle chosen by the director: “The film had to find another bias and take an actor who was going to be given as Elvis, but who really wasn’t.” If Théo Ribeton affirms that “it’s a bit paradoxical”, the film appears to him as “filled with the absence of Elvis”, releasing “a real melancholy”. A successful choice “justifies everything that one would usually reproach Baz Luhrmann”, concludes the critic.
“It’s the epiphanic religious biopic”
Beyond being a world-renowned and legendary star, Elvis emanates a form of religiosity, underlined by the baroque aspect of the film which, in its sometimes excessive excess, manages to restore all its sacredness to the figure of the King. : “This kind of baroque excess is about trying to make us feel something that Baz Luhrmann couldn’t have made us feel otherwise. In fact, it’s the epiphanic religious biopic and Elvis was ideal for doing that treatment.”
More than a legend “Elvis is a kind of miracle”a figure that calls for a special favor: “We cannot treat him like someone who would be tormented and who would have a talent, to control, to master, to perfect. No. Elvis, he goes on stage and is seized by a swaying of his hips seeming not to control himself. It’s really the ‘vehicle body’ of a kind of sexual and musical revolution that passes through him.”
This miracle is the one appropriated and modeled by his cynical manager, the one who made it a brand product: “It’s also a film about the making of an image. If the film is from Colonel Parker’s point of view, it’s because he’s someone who witnessed this miracle and who said to himself ‘I’m going to handle this miracle, I saw the archangel come down to earth and I’m going to market it, sell it in Las Vegas.'”
Finally, Théo Ribeton joins Murielle Joudet on what a biopic should convey: “I think that today, taking someone who would look like the original, who would redo their voice and who would follow the different stages of their life; it would be grotesque.”
And now it’s up to you to make up your own mind!
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