The new 'Elvis' movie celebrates a man many see as a cultural thief

Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Entertainment News

When Elvis Presley died in 1977, Lester Bangs argued his death marked the end of consensus in American culture.

“We will continue to fragment,” predicted the critic, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the 2000 movie "Almost Famous." “Along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each other’s objects of reverence.”

In other words: You’ll see the world your way, and I’ll see it mine. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise.

“We will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis,” Bangs, who died in 1982, wrote in the Village Voice. “So I won’t bother saying goodbye to his corpse. I will say goodbye to you.”

Forty-five years later, America is a divided place all right, and not least about the gyrating singer from Tupelo, Mississippi, who is the subject of "Elvis," Baz Luhrmann’s new fever dream of a movie starring Austin Butler as the man who would be King and Tom Hanks as his brilliant carny barker manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

"Elvis," which also features Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King, Shonka Dukureh as Big Mama Thornton, and Alton Mason as Little Richard, arrives in theaters this week with a tall task at hand.


It aims to reel in moviegoers by reimagining a rags-to-riches story that’s calcified into caricature.

It’s Elvis as the dirt-poor Southern white boy in thrall of rhythm & blues, country, and gospel music who’s the answer to the prayers of Sam Phillips, the Sun Records founder.

Elvis turns into a hip-swiveling sensation who shakes up 1950s America before spending the 1960s making inane Hollywood movies and winding up a jumpsuit-encased carcass, lost in Las Vegas purgatory.

The movie portrays its title character as the hero of an American tragedy. He’s caught in the trap by the conniving Colonel, whose real name was Andreas van Kuijk and who was born in the Netherlands — not West Virginia as he claimed. Hanks relishes not being the good guy for once, playing Parker with a prosthetic nose, swollen belly, and a Dutch accent.


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