Saturday, September 25, 2010

Elvis The Movie

Kurt Russell bears a striking resemblance to Elvis, and he sounds a lot like him too. That's the first thing thats hits me watching Elvis The Movie from 1979, released on DVD for the first time recently.

Made just two years after Elvis' death, director John Carpenter does a good job recreating Elvis' life and career, choosing to end the movie with his triumphant return to the stage in 1969.

And although there is nothing in it suggesting Elvis took drugs, personal problems like his marriage flling apart is hinted at, in a way signaling the decline that is to follow.

If Kurt Russell looks like the real thing, then singer Ronnie McDowell sounds very much like Elvis. It's uncanny watching the scene where Russell records "My Happiness," lip-syncing to McDowell's version of a song that wasn't released until 1990.

But being an Elvis fan it's easy to spot the mistakes in the movie, some of which are pretty big ones. Elvis performing "Tutti Frutti" while visiting a German beer joint during his army days is a fantasy that made me think of a similar scene in the movie Top Secret, where actor Val Kilmer sings the same song in a restaurant in East Germany.

Another blooper is Elvis doing a concert tour around 1963, performing in his famous gold jacket, singing "A Fool Such As I" and "Crying In The Chapel." Clearly inspired by (or mixed with) the three charity shows he did in 1961 (two in Memphis and one in Hawaii) , it's nevertheless a nice "what if" scene, where Russell looks even more like the original.

As a matter of fact, I found the 60's a much more incorrect exercise than the 50's part of the movie. Right after Elvis wedding in 1967 we see him dressed in his clothes from Paradise, Hawaiian Style, on his way to shot another movie. A couple of sceens later he's at the piano home at Graceland singing "Bosom Of Abraham" (together with the real Charlie Hodge!) wearing the red shirt/black striped pants from That's The Way It Is.

Then there's the comeback in Las Vegas, where he dons a jumpsuit looking very much like one from 1972, and performing "The Wonder Of You" right after "Blue Suede Shoes."

But all mistakes asides (artistic freedom?) I found watching Elvis The Movie an entertaining experience, mainly thanks to Kurt Russell's performance. If I had to pick one scene, it would be the one where he wakes Priscilla up in the middle of the night, quoting The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. Pulling off a scene like that not only takes great acting skills, it also lends a deeper meaning to the film.

PS: If I had to pick two scenes, I would also choose the one with Elvis rehearsing "Suspicious Minds" at his home in Bel Air. Suddenly, there is the real Kathy Westmoreland among the singers.

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