At some point, it just becomes the responsible thing to do to take an artist’s microphone away. That moment has arrived for Baz Luhrmann with Elvis.
The biopic, roasted alive by some critics, yet greeted with a lengthy standing ovation at Cannes, cannot be done justice in re-telling. This sprawling, sinister epic must be seen to be believed. But seeing it must come with a warning. This is no ordinary piece of cinema.
Baz Luhrmann has written, directed and produced a movie about grooming and made the predator its hero. With a thousand rich narratives available to depict Elvis Presley’s incredible life, Luhrmann chose this downright creepy portrait and no one saw fit to stop him. The final product needs to give more people in showbiz pause before they hand this man a multi-million dollar budget and artistic control.
The gay coding in Elvis becomes almost vaudevillian. This is the tale of a sugar daddy and his (barely legal) twink. Tom Hanks’ performance as Presley’s long-time manager “Colonel” Tom Parker is painfully committed. He looms out of the darkness of this camp spectacle’s every corner, his sleazy Dutch accent searing against a backdrop of ominous music. He openly stalks Austin Butler’s Elvis, a totem pole of impossible male beauty created with every trick in cinema’s book, virtually drooling as he reaches out to grasp his prize.
“I can make you a star my boy if only you’ll give me everything I desire.”
The sadistic joy of this monster builds across almost three hours as he lures his mark back time and time again. Luhrmann’s Parker becomes downright orgasmic in the knowledge others are watching. Some of them know exactly what he is yet do nothing to stop him, powerless in the face of his guile.
The audience is left to squirm each time this slasher strikes, only for the director to draw them back in using Presley’s iconic legacy as some sick McGuffin, a promise this will all work out well in the end. In the throes of this carefully choreographed endeavour, $85 million worth of glamorous aesthetic is thrown at the screen in an endless torrent to convince the audience what they’re actually seeing is a love story.
They are. Just not the one they think.
Grooming as an experience is not common enough to be easily identifiable, or Leaving Neverland would have been the incontrovertible death of the legacy of Michael Jackson. But it echoes through every frame of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. When the movie ends (spoiler alert) and Parker informs the audience they, not he, killed Elvis Presley by letting him love them so much, the cycle of abuse is complete. The audience has been sold the line it’s ok to exploit, manipulate, abuse and degrade so long as you can claim the result is great art.
It’s a proposition rendered more disturbingly meta when you remember the star of this movie was hospitalised after it wrapped.
The more scathing reviews have hinted Elvis is more about Baz Luhrmann than anyone else. It begs the question, what is known inside the movie industry about Luhrmann that would make critics suggest this toxic horror movie is his Otto e Mezzo?
The global gay community is yet to have its defining #MeToo moment. But it will. All that’s left is time to reveal if it will see Baz Luhrmann finally leave the building.