The film Elvis, by Baz Luhrmann, is perhaps the mega-production of this early summer. But what do the real connoisseurs think? We asked two impersonators of the King to give us their impressions and their criticism. Conversation with Elvis Lajoie, 62, and John Carpenter, 33, two Quebec Elvis who have nothing of Elvis Gratton.
Posted at 7:00 a.m.
Q. Let’s break the ice, gentlemen. Your general impressions of the film?
Elvis Lajoie: I was afraid of being disappointed. It’s a masterpiece. Very true to his life. I put 10 out of 10. It’s the same costumes, the same sets, for the details, they went to look for the integral, it doesn’t make good sense. I even recognized the vests and stockings he wore.
John Carpenter: The images, the acting, hats off. The historian that I am would say that there were small faults on the right and on the left. For example, Elvis couldn’t sing Trouble in 1956, since he recorded it in 1958. But it was perhaps intended to serve the purpose of the film.
Q. And Austin Butler as the King? He gets away with it?
EL: We noticed a few hiccups. Too exaggerated on “shakes” or smiles, but it’s minimal. He’s especially good when he plays the Elvis from 1956 to the 1968 comeback. After 1970, there are little things that Elvis didn’t do. But I find that he remained himself, I like that.
JC: His acting, hats off. It’s an extremely difficult role because with Elvis, you’re always on the line. It’s very easy to fall into clowning, parody. Not him. He understood who Elvis Presley was.
Q. What does it take to be a good King impersonator?
EL: The voice above all. Austin Buster does his best, even if he doesn’t exactly have the voice. I prefer that to an overly exaggerated voice.
JC: The voice, the body language, a certain physical resemblance. Attention to detail, so that people can relive the spectacle of the time. Above all, avoid low-end imitation. Guys who distort, who don’t have a good look, who have wigs that aren’t advantageous à la Elvis Gratton, personally, I deplore.
Q. It’s a film about Elvis, but also about the grip of his impresario, the famous Colonel Parker. He is the main villain of this story.
EL: Yes. The colonel made him a king, but he bullied him in his dreams. He imprisoned him, in a way. He abused him financially. He took 50% of the receipts. There is no manager who does that. We didn’t see that at the time, but Elvis didn’t have it easy.
JC: It was such a nebulous relationship. There have been a lot of rumours. But with this film, we understand a lot of things. You can see how far the Colonel was willing to squeeze the lemon. And why he was squeezing the lemon: he had a terrible gambling debt!
Q. Could they have been successful without each other, in your opinion?
EL: The Colonel was important to Elvis. A manager who sold trinkets, toys, Christmas items, that didn’t exist before him. He was a showman, he had that in his soul. He had a big mouth, he was able to get contracts. But at some point, Elvis could have done without him.
JC: They were two men who had one goal: to become larger than life. Unfortunately, that led to their downfall… The problem is that from the moment the Beatles arrived, the colonel was overwhelmed by what was happening in the world of music. Afterwards, he locked Elvis in a golden cage in Las Vegas, when the trend was for world tours. And he watched his foal wasting away.
Q. Dans le film biographique de Baz Luhrmann, le colonel Parker affirme que c’est l’amour du public qui a tué Elvis. Qu’en pensez-vous ?
E.L. : Ce qui l’a tué, c’est les drogues. Il en avait besoin pour tenir ce rythme infernal. Il pouvait faire jusqu’à trois shows par soir. Personne n’est capable de faire ça. Il s’est usé. Quand il est mort, il paraît qu’il avait le corps de quelqu’un de 80 ans. C’était un vieillard.
J.C. : Elvis s’est brûlé, tout simplement. Il était arrivé au bout de ce qu’il était capable de faire. Il n’avait plus de nouveaux défis. Mais il s’est donné jusqu’à la toute fin pour son public. J’espère que les gens vont le voir comme ça après avoir vu le film.
Q. Il y a cette scène, assez forte, où Elvis finit par congédier le colonel. Ça se passe en plein milieu d’un concert à Las Vegas. Authentique ?
E.L. : On s’est posé la question. C’est arrivé qu’Elvis se foute de la gueule du colonel, mais de là à avoir fait une scène sur le stage, je pense pas. Il a peut-être fait une scène, mais pas agressive comme ça. Finir un show comme ça ? On l’aurait su.
J.C. : C’est romancé, disons. Ils se sont vraiment engueulés devant les musiciens, mais c’était après le spectacle. Le public était parti.
Q. Quel est l’héritage d’Elvis aujourd’hui, selon vous ? Encore pertinent ou il appartient à une autre époque ?
E.L. : Son histoire va peut-être s’effacer avec les années, mais sa voix va rester. Sa voix est unique.
J.C. : Il a été le premier à faire un vidéoclip [Jailhouse Rock]. The first artist to bring black music to the mainstream. If Elvis isn’t here, the Beatles aren’t here. He influenced a lot of people. Until Celine Dion and Elton John.
Q. But who still loves Elvis? Are there young people in your shows?
EL: It is certain that 70% of the people who come to my shows are in their fifties on the way up. But I have parents who bring their 15-20 year olds. And I often see young people listening to Elvis.
JC: Personally, I mainly present the 1954-1957 era, the very rock’n’roll era, almost rockabilly, very wild in itself. I would say that this era will look a lot for new generations.
Q. And you, finally, do you have a manager?
EL: I had one at first, but we kicked him out after two or three shows. There was money missing from the pot! Afterwards, I always managed myself. It’s a lot of work. Since COVID-19, I donate less than shows. I am 62 years old, I have less strength to prepare everything to get on the traineeship and be fit.
JC: At the moment, no. I had a few agents, but unfortunately it didn’t go very well. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I take care of my things myself. But when you look at the colonel, I tell myself that it’s just as well!