Pop Culture That Matters: Elvis

Published 4:30 pm Friday, July 8, 2022

With a rare extra day of leisure this past weekend, I had the chance to do one of my all-time favorite things on Sunday: go to the movies. My choice for a cinematic adventure was director Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of the one and only Elvis Presley.

This picture – I love that term even if it is antiquated – was a stretch beyond my standard cinema-going preferences. Mr. Luhrmann is a talented director, but his vision for the movie version of one of my favorite novels, “The Great Gatsby,” was a bit excessive for my tastes. Also, Elvis is an entertainer whose legacy I never paid much attention to, despite a visit to Graceland with my parents over 20 years ago and an acquired knowledge of his songs through everyday exposure. I mean, everyone has heard at least one Elvis song in their lifetime.

So why fork over close to $12 to see a movie that is not a guaranteed personal pleaser? It was curiosity more than anything.

And to be fair, it is a decent movie, even if it is a standard genre film. If you’ve seen “Ray” or “Walk the Line,” then you’ve seen “Elvis.” A musician from humble origins wins fame and their demons almost – if not outright – derail their career before they find atonement. Spoiler: the King doesn’t conquer his.

The frantic energy surrounding the performance scenes makes it stand apart from the rest. Austin Butler – the actor who plays Elvis – puts his heart and soul into capturing the unique charisma of an American icon. His performance is not an impersonation. It is an indwelling, a rare feat for any actor or actress to pull off when they play a historical figure.

So why does this piece of pop culture matter? Well, it did what any good biography should do – it inspired me to look closely at the man they called the King. I’ve already ordered a few written biographies and listened to some of his songs.

I have to say the hype is real. Elvis was a gifted entertainer with a unique sound, which is not easily accessible in a world where the airwaves are congested by electronic music. His ability to fuse the blues – a personal favorite of mine – with other genres was masterful, and his battle against the forces of “decency” is timely – two things I can respect and admire.