This is not Elvis. This is Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, and you need to know this going in. The director’s films are frenetic to the extreme. Full of hyper-stylized montages, jump cuts and crash zooms in the spirit of New Wave MTV.
The tenured Aussie director specializes in grafting present day pop culture onto ancient stories that today’s youth would otherwise consider too boring to investigate or appreciate. Like Elvis😅. Notably, his movies always feature an eclectic soundtrack with originals performed by today’s artists. In Moulin Rouge (2001) Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink performed “Lady Marmalade” in the setting of Parisian bohemia circa 1900. In The Great Gatsby (2013) it was Lana, Florence, Beyonce and Jay Z and other A-listers roaring at Jay Gatsby (Leo’s) luxurious 1920 parties in West Egg.
Here is Luhrmann’s brilliant description of the musical rationale applied in Gatsby: “When I went to do Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote African-American street music, jazz numbers, into the novel,” the director explains. “He coined the term Jazz Age. Jay-Z and I realized that the translation of jazz must be hip-hop. We were translating not only what it was, but what it felt like.”
In addition to Elvis classics, The present soundtrack features originals from Doja Cat, Eminem and CeeLo Green, Kacey Musgraves, Stevie Nicks and Chris Isaak, and Jack White – all dubbed over a Beat Generation backdrop. Gary Clark Jr. performs guitar, and Austin Butler (as Elvis) sings his own vocals. There are also sprinkles of other generation music in between. Like traces of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Backstreet Boyz to appease us millennials – the director’s first fans.
“To audiences of today, Elvis Presley might seem like a relic of a bygone era: a guy with an oft-imitated voice, flashy jumpsuits, and a cadre of hokey movies to his credit. But what Luhrmann and Butler wanted audiences to appreciate was just how dangerous Presley seemed when he first rose to fame.” (Lenker, 06/22/22)
A Baz Luhrmann movie is always a party. It will be a feast for the eyes and ears, if it is not downright disorienting. Wife and long time collaborator, Catherine Martin’s production designs are impeccable of course. The 2 Hr. 40 min. runtime will surely be a dealbreaker for many a prospective audience. But clearly the director felt his subject deserved the added space. IMO there were just too many scenes, happening too quickly. I felt like I could not catch my breath until the very end. Maybe this is how The King from Graceland felt his whole life though. Maybe this is exactly the restless heart Luhrmann wished to portray.
Runtime: 2Hr. 40 min.
Director: Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby)
Production Designer: Catherine Martin (“”)
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge
The Inside Out: (65/100): Disgust / Joy