Baz Luhrmann Calls Elvis the Apocalypse Now of Musicals and a Pop Cultural Opera
Summer blockbuster “Elvis” is not a biopic, but rather a superhero film — or, a Shakespearian epic of good vs. evil, rebellion, and the uncertainty of fame, according to director Baz Luhrmann.
“Elvis” stars triple-threat Disney alum Austin Butler in the role of rock ‘n roll icon Elvis Presley, along with Olivia DeJonge playing Priscilla, Kodi Smit-McPhee as country legend Jimmie Rodgers, Yola Quartey as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. playing B.B. King. The film will be released in theaters on June 24 after premiering at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
And while Presley is an icon, Luhrmann wants to set the record straight that the film “isn’t a nostalgia piece” but, rather, an ode to the King.
“While respecting and loving the fans, I’m opening Elvis’ journey out to a new audience that knows only the guy in the jumpsuit and doesn’t understand that he was a rebel,” Luhrmann told Entertainment Weekly. “He was the first real pop-cultural youth rebel on a mass level.”
Luhrmann continued, “The ‘Apocalypse Now’ of musicals is what I’ve joked about calling the movie — and that’s the ’70s period. It’s so sprawling and it’s beautiful, but it’s powerful. It’s a three-act pop-cultural opera…His life fits beautifully into three acts. There’s Elvis the punk, if you like, the original punk rocker, the rebel. Then there’s Elvis the movie man, and that’s when he is pop and family-friendly. And then there’s ’70s Elvis, which is epic.”
“Elvis” also focuses on “the sell” of stardom, with the framework of the film launching from the perspective of Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks. “He was really a carnival barker, who saw this kid and goes, ‘That’s a great act,’” Luhrmann added. “That’s the beauty and the tragedy of the movie — you see them rise and fall.”
Luhrmann maintains the film uses Presley’s “pursuit of some sort of impossible dream” as a pacing mechanism, highlighting Presley’s unfulfilled desire to be an actor akin to James Dean. The “Moulin Rouge!” director cited Presley’s turn in “great little noir” film “King Creole” before he joined the Army.
“He shows real acting chops,” Luhrmann said. “That was quashed when essentially the Colonel thought, well, we’re just going to make more money out of you singing songs. That was [Presley’s] greatest sadness — after the Army, he did all the musicals. He always wanted to do a great role, and he was capable of it. He was going to be in ‘A Star Is Born’ with Barbra Streisand, but the Colonel got in the way of that.”
Luhrmann summed up, “Look, I love some of the cute little musicals, but he got caught in a Hollywood bubble and he never got back to that dream of doing great serious roles.”
Let’s just say, “Elvis” will definitely not be one of those “cute little musicals” this time.
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