Elvis: a Baz Luhrmann extravaganza

Austin Butler as Elvis in Baz Luhrmann’s stunning epic. Photo: supplied.

Australian film producer and director Martin Fabinyi reviews Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, Elvis.

★★★★★

There’s nothing subtle about this remarkable film, a colourful whirlwind spectacular that mirrors Elvis’s life and death.

Baz has said that while the story is called Elvis, it’s also Colonel Tom Parker’s story. Tom Hanks brilliantly plays the shady Colonel whose micro- management catapulted Elvis to become the most iconic solo singer of all time. But this is Austin Butler’s movie. He embodies Elvis in a way no Elvis impersonator could come close to.

His performance is an Oscar-winning one, just as Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury was in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Baz’s work (and lifestyle) tends to polarize people. He is in fact, a singular talent that began life, cinematically, with Strictly Ballroom in 1992. Beyond Distribution, which has held the international rights since its release, has said that Strictly has never been out of contract in 30 years. Its follow-up, Romeo & Juliet, and the four films that followed have all been box office successes and mostly loathed by the critics, especially the one major creative hiccup in Australia (2008).

With Elvis, the critics have once again begun baying for Baz’s blood. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph describes Tom Hanks’s performance as Colonel Tom Parker as a “dud”. Perhaps Rupert put the word out to his devoted copywriters to bag the film after Baz left (or was pushed) out of Murdoch’s then-20th Century Fox stable and into the arms of Warner Bros after Australia. In the US and Great Britain, the response has been in the main far more positive,

Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler discuss moves for Elvis. Photo: supplied.

Elvis is an almost hallucinogenic experience, a kaleidoscope of soundscapes and images that bring to mind the triumph that was Moulin Rouge. The story of Elvis and the Colonel, and the untimely end of both of them, has become so well known that any dramatic interpretation needed to be larger than the myth.

Baz, and the extraordinary talent of his partner in life and in art, Catherine Martin, have created an experience that does just that, told through the lens of the Colonel, in an inventive and successful plotline. Tom Hanks, jowls and all, is perfect in the role, as are all the other players. Special mention must be made of Mandy Walker, the Director of Photography who transforms the Gold Coast into the brightly lit Beale Street of Memphis and the Las Vegas of the 1970s. Also due a mention is the music composer and producer Elliot Wheeler, whose work with Baz has always been remarkable. And of course, as mentioned, Catherine Martin, whose production design is as inventive as any of her work with Baz, or even more so.

Elvis is a crazy, mixed-up movie, just like Elvis in the 1950s.

Elvis is in wide release.

It will stream on HBO from the 22nd of August. 2022.

Martin Fabinyi is an Australian film producer and director who has produced and directed films since 1975.

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