The king of rock and roll comes to life in the lavish biopic Elvis. from Baz Luhrmann

On July 31, 1969, Elvis Presley first took the stage at the International Hotel in Vegas, still at the height of his 1968 electric TV special, which had revived his grueling career.

What was originally conceived as a four-week stay at the hotel – a brand new $60 million development and then the largest in the world – was to culminate in a seven-year period, concluding the final chapter of Presley’s tragically cut short career, the theater witnessed his descent into a state of narcotic, rhinestone-encrusted stupor.

But it had started so well: The huge theater and budget for the blue sky production had inspired Elvis to put together a show that reached new heights of kitschy extravagance.

Bassist Jerry Scheff recalled the nerves of Elvis opening night to Time: “His knee… [was] rises and falls like a piston, his hands dance like butterflies.”Supplied: Warner Bros

It’s certainly this Vegas-era Elvis—the jumpsuit-clad crooner, padded and decked out and accompanied by backing singers, a band, and a 40-piece orchestra—who called Baz Luhrmann, himself an inveterate showman with a bowerbird eye for things that glitter. and shine, and especially things that can break.

Collectively, his films carry the thesis that the greatest heartbreak is reserved for the most beautiful people – and who could be more beautiful than the strange, pompadourous boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, with a voice like melting butter and those impossibly voluptuous hips?

With Elvis, Luhrmann—whose last film used one of the signature works of American literature as its source material (The Great Gatsby, 2016), and the film before that, the mythos of this entire nation (Australia, 2012)—gives the old bazzle-dazzle to what is arguably his most iconic subject to date.

Caucasian man with pompadour hair in 50s style wearing an open black shirt and looking sultry, leaning against a pole in a dimly lit hall
Butler auditioned by sending Luhrmann a tape on which he sings Unchained Melody and he sings many of the early songs in the film.Supplied: Warner Bros

Because Elvis Presley’s story is nothing short of the story of rock and roll, from the slums and steamy nightclubs of the American South to prime-time national television.

And Luhrmann takes it all courageously in his kaleidoscopic movement: with his often hyperactive camera work, the film plays like a 159-minute musical rollercoaster ride through Elvis’s 42 years. You run the risk of being completely shaken up, if not by tenderness, then possibly by motion sickness.

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