Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Elvis Effect

One of the celebrities that I became a fan of first from my childhood was Elvis Presley. I remember watching a TV special on his death anniversary when I was younger that made me interested in the man. 

Back in the days of no internet I only got to know Elvis from what was available. I found a book at my grandmother’s house about Elvis and his ex-wife Priscilla called Elvis and Me and I read that when I was in grade school. Whenever I saw an Elvis movie pop up on TV or when we could rent out his movies, I would watch them and just be in awe of not just Elvis the actor, but Elvis the singer/performer. 

Now that the wonders of the internet have given me access to all things Elvis, I have become an even bigger fan of the guy as a performer. Can’t say the same for him as a person as much since I find it problematic how he was a 24-year-old who got into a relationship with his future wife when she was only 14. Then there are all the allegations of abuse of the women in his life and drug abuse that led to his death. It was like he was an amazing and bright light as a performer but he had such a sad and dark life as a person. I preferred seeing the performer as separate from the person that he was.

When I heard that Austin Butler was going to play Elvis Presley in the Baz Luhrmann movie about the man, I was not happy. I did not think that he looked anything like Elvis or sounded like him. I only knew him as Vanessa Hudgens’ (ex) boyfriend and in his roles in some forgettable movies and TV shows and I was doubtful that this movie would do Elvis justice. I was wrong. I have recently seen the movie and I now understand why he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for doing this movie. 

Austin Butler was incredible as Elvis. He was Elvis. The way he moved, the way he talked, even the sound of his voice. It gave me chills watching his portrayal of the music legend. He did not look like Elvis exactly, but the way he played the man carried the very essence of who Elvis was, and that made me believe that it was him. There were even moments when he was so good that I could have sworn it was the real Elvis that I was watching on screen. 

I enjoyed watching the movie and seeing key moments that I have read about in Elvis and Me and things I’ve read about his life play out. I’ve read a lot about how his manager scammed him and abused him as his talent but seeing how it affected his life and possibly being the reason why his life turned out the way he did? That made me feel so sorry for Elvis. He seemed to just be a man who loved music and performing and wanted to provide for his family. Somewhere along the way he was blinded by fame and fortune, manipulated not just by his manager but by the people around him who were living off his earnings. By the time he wanted out, there was no way out for him and he just allowed himself to be swallowed by the system of the life he lived in. 

I also could not help but compare Elvis’ life and fame with that of my favorite group, BTS. I was reminded of them in the scene where people were commenting about Elvis and his hair and makeup. I was again reminded of them when he was being made to do songs/performances that were manufactured and not authentic to him. He wanted to do music that he loved and inspired him -- not music that fits into what people thought a white man should be doing. It made me thankful that these days, artists like BTS have been given the freedom to do the type of music that they want and express themselves in the way that they want to. And, unlike Elvis, they actually get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and not have management take everything. 

I know that people may say that I've become the type of fan that can insert BTS into any conversation I have but even with Elvis' moves I found myself thinking of BTS. I had this random thought that Elvis wiggled his hips and made that popular so that BTS could, decades later, dance to Bapsae (BTS fans would know what I mean).

Another scene that reminded me of BTS was when they were talking about Elvis merchandise. It made me wonder if he was the first artist to come out with that. If yes, then BTS fans have him to thank (or not, ha-ha) that we regularly empty our wallets for merchandise from our favorite artists. 

I thought that Baz Luhrmann again has another masterpiece with this movie. I love his work, particularly The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, and Romeo and Juliet: movies that seem to be like this giant moving art piece with music not just of the period of the film but with scenes that are interspersed with modern music in it. You’d think that it wouldn’t work but it does…and it does so really well. 

Elvis is the type of movie that I haven’t seen in a long time. One that moved not just my senses because of the beautiful visuals and the great music, but because of the emotion that it gave me at the end of it all. I haven’t felt so moved by a story in a way that it stayed with me after the film was over. I can’t even remember the last time that something like this happened. I am happy that I decided to watch it. 

I read that the book Elvis and Me will be turned into a movie with Jacob Elordi as Elvis. I’m not sure if I will be able to see it without being affected by Austin Butler’s portrayal in this movie but given that I was wrong about him, I am willing to give it a try.

In an episode of the Fandesals Podcast, we talked about celebrity urban legends, one of them being that Elvis did not die that day in 1977. For more on that, you can check out the video here. Happy viewing!


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