There's an important reminder to be had for us all, even decades after the King of Rock's death.
This week I set off to watch Elvis, directed by Baz Luhrmann. I must admit, I knew little of Elvis other than his penchant for extravagant jumpsuits, his dangerous hip swiveling, his seriously velvety tones, and his tragic death. But I was curious to learn a little more about Elvis Presley the man, and try to understand why my mother always says there’ll never be a singer like him.
Since seeing the film I’ve read a myriad of film reviews. They range from those who appreciated the showman style of Elvis mixed with Luhrmann’s dramatization, and others who felt disappointed that they didn’t learn much more about the star.
I came out of the movie theater with a mix of emotions. In the space of just over two and a half hours we’re taken on a whirlwind musical journey through time, with a reminder of the shocking social events that occurred back then. Hearing some of the familiar Elvis songs — impressively performed by actor Austin Butler — took me back to listening to my dad singing them in the kitchen.
In terms of nostalgia and a little history, the film ticks the boxes. But that wasn’t my biggest takeaway from the movie. I think sadness was my prevailing feeling when Elvis ended. There was no happy ending — and as an optimist, I do crave that in a film. There was no sense of satisfaction, or completion. After all, the star died a horrible, lonely death.
I felt particularly moved by the story of a young man who had the God-given talent of not just a beautiful, distinct voice, but an ability to really feel everything he sang; from his toes up to his perfectly coiffed hair. And yet with all his talent, and his ability to unite people, the man behind the microphone was exploited in the name of money and greed.
According to the film and various reports, the King of Rock’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, used his star performer to secure his own fortunes and pay off the debts he’d accrued in the Las Vegas casinos. Elvis’ wings were clipped. His dreams of traveling the world to perform to millions of his fans were never fulfilled. All because of the manipulations of a man he looked up to and depended on.
It would have been interesting to see what Elvis could have achieved if he’d followed his musical heart. After all, he was inspired by Gospel music and had lent his voice to a Catholic film with the uplifting Let us Pray (which you can see in the video below). Who can forget his exquisite rendition of How Great Thou Art?
His story, though tragic, is not unfamiliar in the celebrity world today. Take Britney Spears, whose own life was heavily controlled by her manager father. I think this is what added to my feeling of sadness. Money certainly makes slaves of people, even the most talented of stars, and despite all the examples we’ve seen in history, we don’t seem to learn this lesson.
Maybe that’s why I appreciated the film so much. For me it was like a big bell ringing in my ear — admittedly, the bell was more the dulcet tones of Elvis’ voice — reminding us to use our talents wisely, guard our expectations, be generous with our gifts, but always remember why we were given them in the first place.