Baz Luhrmann signs a sumptuous and intelligent film on a King too divine for the consecrated formulas of the biopic genre.
The personalities who are going through the mill of the Hollywood biopic factory this year come from an unusually high category of celebrity. The highest in fact, that of myth – so high that it calls into question the standard recipes of the biographical genre.
Because embodying Marilyn (in Blonde hairin September on Netflix) or Elvis, is to measure yourself against an unsurpassable image: an image more firmly fixed than all in minds and memories, and which has already given birth to its own iconography, its inexhaustible world of copies, repetitions, variations, parodies, to the point that it is no longer really possible to reach the original again to offer it a classic reincarnation.
A Miracle Named Elvis
And this is perhaps a problem for films, but no doubt also an opportunity: that of shaking off the coconut tree of a biographical genre that is too stuck in its worn-out scheme of rise and fall. And Elvisas such, is almost an anti-walk the line : he invents another form, no longer starting from the torments of the tortured rockstar, his ego, his anxieties, but simply starting from the miracle of his perfection. Elvis is perfect, which is quite paradoxical in the film given that Austin Butler, his interpreter, is not. Or at least he’s not Elvis, any more than any Las Vegas doppelgänger.
But Baz Luhrmann nevertheless builds his film around the idea of this perfection, which leads him to adopt rather astonishing biases: for example, to completely expedite the question of talent. The talent of the King is more in the film of the miracle, possibly religious (he also starts from very disturbing childhood scenes, where the young Elvis is transfigured like a young prophet by the discovery of the gospel songs of a black church) . The body through which he passes never seems able to control him, to decide him: the musical, vocal and above all gestural genius of the singer seems to impose itself on him. His hips take hold of him on stage without his really seeming to know what he’s doing – he simply accepts being the vehicle of this American and then planetary sexual revolution which passes through his body.
What appears, in the end, is that Luhrmann was a very good choice to stage the life of Elvis, by his legendary excess but also and above all his assumed taste for artifice. Because the subject, here, is not the career of a man, but the appearance of a God – and immediately the management of this God, the publicity business of his miracle, not so much by him as by the sharks who tear him away (in the first rank of which Colonel Parker, his villainous manager played by Tom Hanks) and will end up having his skin. All that remains is to discover in a few months how Andrew Niccol will respond in Blonde hair to the same questions.
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“Elvis” sparkles in an extraordinary biopic – Les Inrocks
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