Below are comments and observations about the new movie, “ELVIS.” These are opinions only.

First, let’s go back and look at one paragraph from “On Elvis Biopics” (October 2019):

Now, several years later, we are awaiting the Luhrmann-produced Elvis biopic, and so far I am not entirely sure what we will be getting. First, Luhrmann is partnering with the Presley estate on the project, so right off the bat we have the possibility (probability) of a whitewashed story. The drug use will likely be diminished if not eliminated, relationships will be ignored or exaggerated (how many “best friends” did Elvis have, right?), and everything will wrap up nicely and trail off into one of those movie closings where a white-text-on-black-background paragraph tells us what happened next (“Elvis died on August 16, 1977, from a heart attack at Graceland mansion”). And that will be that. Critics will rave, and another re-write of history is done.

Let’s take a look at the movie now, starting with a few general definitions:

Biopic: A biopic (short for “biographical picture”) is a type of motion picture that tells the life story of a non-fictional, real person. Biopics incorporate more stunts, visual effects and dramatic dialogues that would otherwise not seem realistic. Biopics are made for entertainment, documentaries are made to inform.

Artistic License: deviation from fact or form for artistic purposes.

Historical Fiction: A literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting related to the past events, but is fictional. Historical novels capture the details of the time period as accurately as possible for authenticity, including social norms, manners, customs, and traditions

Anachronism: When something or someone is in the incorrect time period.

What is “ELVIS”?

In my view, “ELVIS” is not a biopic. Instead, it is a story about Colonel Parker and Elvis, told through the eyes of Parker. It could be considered historical fiction, mixed with a bit of non-fiction, but there is a rather obvious problem with the film from the standpoint of fiction vs. non-fiction: there are many scenes that are either out of order on the known timeline, or they are presented in a different location, or with different circumstances. The “artistic license” I keep hearing about in reviews and media commentary on the movie is used to the Nth degree, to the point where very few scenes are, according to the record, historically accurate. In fact, during the movie I could hear people in the theater asking the person next to them, “Did that really happen?,” more than a few times, and it’s this artistic license that is troublesome.

Similarly, after the movie I was walking through the theater lobby and I overheard a few people commenting to friends, “I didn’t realize that…,” which leads me to believe that to the layperson this movie is accepted as a factual depiction of Elvis’s life, and that all these events did happen as presented.

Also critically important is the confusion that is going to be created by referring to this movie as a biopic. While “artistic license” can be used in this type of film, I don’t believe it should have been so liberally used in a film about Elvis. Why? Because the informational side of Elvis’s life and story is already so screwed up that we didn’t need yet another layer of “fever dream” (Nash) storytelling parading as facts. If I were a non-fan and I saw this movie with little knowledge of Elvis Presley, I would have left the theater with numerous impressions and beliefs (many negative) that probably would not line up with the factual accounts of Elvis’s life. Or, if they did, the details would be a huge mess. This is what we see in “ELVIS” and it will do a disservice to the public, and to the newer fans. (And, yeah, the older fans, too.) Already I have seen media discussion addressing fact vs. fiction with the film, and that makes me wonder, why has this movie been out less than two weeks and already we are knee-deep in discussions about fiction vs. non-fiction? 12 days. I don’t remember lengthy debates about the Johnny Cash biopic, for example. No one was writing articles trying to figure out what was fact and what was fiction in that movie. And yet with “ELVIS,” we are left with huge chunks of the film in that gray area between fact and fiction, and more times than not it seems fiction carries the day.

Exclusion of specific people: This is not a biopic, and the focus at first might seem broad enough to include any number of people, but in considering the way the story is presented I believe most of the people around Elvis should not have been included, which is the case here. The only friend of Elvis’s that is featured beyond a scene or two is Jerry Schilling, who in real life these days is Priscilla Presley’s shadow, so we can assume how he became the only “friend” in the story. But Linda, Billy Smith, Ginger, and others…the story simply doesn’t cover those aspects of Elvis’s life. As I’ve opined here, this is not a true biopic, and is instead a story about Parker and Elvis; in that regard, most of the people who are saying they’ve been excluded are not (in my view) correctly defining the type of film this is (though, granted, we’ve been told it is a biopic). That is, they are looking at it as a biography, when in fact it is not a biography at all, beyond just the basic fact structure.

This brings us to the questions pertaining to timeline, anachronisms, artistic license, and the like. If this is not a biopic, then these analyses and criticisms are moot; after all, why assess facts and accuracy if the movie is not a true biopic? I mean, if Luhrmann wants to do an “artistic license” scene where Elvis fires Colonel Parker from the stage, in the midst of what appears to be a psychotic breakdown, then who are we to comment on the accuracy of the scene? It’s not a real scene. Frankly, anything Luhrmann gets “wrong” in terms of truth/accuracy can simply be passed off as “artistic license.” It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

But, if we are going to look at questions of fact, here are just a few comments from what I can recall from the never-ending stream of “Huh?” moments:

The factoids: There were Elvis factoids peppered throughout the film, which I found to be somewhat amateurish. Elvis liked Pepsi? We know that, yeah, but there’s Elvis drinking a Pepsi. Elvis liked the singer Mario Lanza? When Parker is warming Elvis up to the idea of wearing a tuxedo with tails on the Steve Allen Show, he asks Elvis about “the greatest singer,” or something to that effect. Elvis replies, “Mario Lanza?” Great, Luhrmann discovered that Elvis held Lanza in very high regard so he put that factoid in the film. In one of the hospital room scenes, we see a nurse hand Elvis pills from what one might call a “packet.” What was the delivery method for getting Elvis’s his medications in the 70s? Put them in a packet…the “attacks” we all know about. Did Luhrmann read that Elvis received “packets” of medication, so he threw a “packet” in the scene? Seems like it. I am sure there are many more examples of this.

These peppered factoids bring up a question: Luhrmann was given unlimited access to the Graceland archives and reportedly did a huge amount of research for the film. That’s all well and good, and I am assuming he did this research because he needed to learn about and understand his subject matter. But as a longtime fan and researcher I don’t think there was anything in the movie that struck me as “new,” nor was there some unknown interesting factoid that was dug up from the archives that made me take notice. Maybe there were bits and pieces of information that were more subtle and I didn’t recognize them; admittedly, I have only seen the movie once.

The firing of Parker from the stage, a.k.a., Elvis’s psychotic break: This is an “artistic license” scene that was very loosely based on the 1974 incident onstage where Elvis criticized the owner of the Hilton hotel, and after a confrontation with Parker after the show, Elvis fired Parker. But Luhrmann decided to move this scene onto the concert stage, change the reasons behind the whole situation, and depict Elvis as having a complete meltdown. Why?

Parker’s accent, Elvis learns of alien status in early 70s but hadn’t asked about accent, issue dropped: The onstage meltdown when Elvis fired Parker (courtesy of “artistic license”) was in part due to Elvis learning that Parker was in the country illegally and had been dishonest with Elvis. The situation was resolved shortly thereafter, and yet Parker’s immigration status is not mentioned again by Elvis. The accent presents an even larger question: If Parker really had that accent, how did he get by for so many years with no questions about his background? Are we supposed to believe that Parker spoke with this accent, and that it took Elvis nearly 20 years to say something? The mystery will remain as to why Luhrmann had Hanks use this silly accent.

Elvis and Priscilla, last meeting at the airport: What a strange scene. First, we have Elvis and Priscilla meeting at the airport, ostensibly to get Lisa Marie back to her mother after a visit with her father. We are not told the exact date of this meeting, but Elvis fans will certainly recognize the clothing in this scene as being the same worn by Elvis and Priscilla at the Los Angeles County Superior Court on October 9, 1973, when their divorce was finalized. Is that the clue to tell us when this meeting took place? If so, what were they doing at the airport? Elvis had arrived in Los Angeles on September 24 and flew back to Memphis on October 11 or 12. Priscilla already lived in Los Angeles. Why the airport then?

Elvis and Priscilla kissing in 1959: Elvis, age 24, kisses Priscilla, age 14. Who had final say on this script?

Black artists in Club Handy, race/music issue not addressed: Before seeing the movie I had read that the question of race would be addressed, in terms of the music Elvis was recording in the early days, and the charge that Elvis had “stolen” black music. After the film, though, I didn’t get any sense that this issue had been addressed, other than the typical comments people tend to make when discussing the matter. Strange that we had Little Richard, B.B. King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Big Mama Thornton all boxed in at Club Handy, but they didn’t seem to make it out of that room. Same with Arthur Crudup years before.

Gladys’s demeanor: Gladys Presley was depicted as a mean, cantankerous drunk.

Vernon neutered, Elvis thinks of Parker as a father: Elvis’s father is depicted as a very weak do-nothing. Probably some truth in that, but it was interesting to see that portrayal on the screen. And Vernon was appointed the business manager? If that was truly Parker’s doing, then he was a bigger con-man than I thought. (It is my belief that Vernon was siphoning money from Elvis in the later years, and even after Elvis’s death, when Vernon continued to pay himself a rather handsome salary for doing almost nothing. “Business Manager”? Nonsense.)

Priscilla is the only person depicted as trying to help Elvis with professional drug rehabilitation: Another 1973 mystery…is this when she tried to get Elvis to enter rehab? Do we see this mentioned in Priscilla’s 1985 book? Hmmmm. Let me check.

Jerry Schilling: How did Jerry Schilling make it as the only friend of Elvis’s on the “Top Cast” list for “ELVIS”? Oh, yeah, never mind.

More on Schilling: In 2019, Jerry Schilling said of the Luhrmann film (as it was getting started): “He’s [Parker’s] the easy-to-go-to bad guy. But he was actually quite a special guy. A good human being. There might have been differences, but they were creative.” Huh? Did anyone get this from the movie? A good human being? A special guy?

Who comes out looking not-so-great: Of the main cast of characters, by the end of the film the following have been presented in a negative light: Elvis, Vernon, Gladys, Colonel Parker. And those presented in a favorable light: Priscilla, Jerry Schilling. Everyone else? Mute.

[Fun Fact Sidebar: The only books by friends/family available at Graceland are those authored by Priscilla Presley, Jerry Schilling, George Klein, and Dixie Locke. The four books that do not stray even for a moment outside the lines. The Klein and Locke books include praise/endorsements from Priscilla Presley. So if you want to learn about Elvis beyond the company line, don’t do your reading at Graceland.]

Parker’s presence in Memphis/at Graceland: The film painted Parker as very hands-on in Memphis, and yet he was very rarely there.

The Lisa Marie and the jumpsuits: The Lisa Marie airplane was referenced several times in the movie, but the Lisa Marie wasn’t in the picture until 1975, and the movie doesn’t go past 1973 (except for the “Unchained Melody” scene). Same thing with a number of Elvis’s 1975-1976 jumpsuits: we see them in 1973 in the movie, but they weren’t worn by Elvis until several years later.

The little finger, using scene from the 68CS: During the 1968 “Comeback Special” (sit-down, at the end of “Baby What You Want Me To Do”), Elvis talks about the Florida Theater show and how they forced him to limit his on-stage movements, and as he’s telling the story he lifts his hand and extends his pinky finger and sings, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time.” In the movie, it sounds like “Elvis” (Butler) is singing this line (in 1956) from the TV special 12 years later.

Mix of Elvis vocal with Butler vocal: Butler did a really good job with the vocals, but it may be confusing for some people who might have thought Butler’s vocals were Elvis’s, or Elvis’s vocals were Butler’s.

Butler: And since I mentioned Butler’s vocals, I’d also give the actor huge props for his work in this film, with the highlights (for me) being the early 1970s concert performances, and the 1977 performance of “Unchained Melody.” It is obvious that Butler put the work into this role, and it shows.

This film was not made for anyone over 30: I don’t believe this movie is intended for any longtime Elvis fans, and its purpose seems to be as a marketing tool to bring in younger viewers, i.e. fans, i.e. fans to replace the older fans.

The Parker/Elvis Ferris wheel scene: Did this happen? More “artistic license.”

The scene from “This Is Elvis,” entering gate: In the opening section of the 1981 movie, “This Is Elvis,” the Stutz is seen entering Graceland at the gates, which would have been “Elvis’s” return at 12:28am from the dental appointment. “Ginger Alden” is in the front passenger seat. While this scene works with “This Is Elvis,” I am not clear on why it’s included in “ELVIS,” since there is no context for the scene, and anyone watching the film without prior knowledge of this film, and of this scene, and of this late night return to Graceland, would not understand what is happening. So what was the point of this scene? Even more confusing is that this scene is followed by the airport scene with Elvis and Priscilla in the limo, which we are led to believe/assume is from 1973. [Note: If Luhrmann re-shot this scene, so be it, but the point stands.]

The closing: The final scenes with Butler and then Elvis performing “Unchained Melody” are powerful and poignant, and I think it was a good decision to show the real Elvis at the end of his life. This was a very effective way to end the movie, but it also made me think about another filmmaker who might be able to depict the tragedy of the end of Elvis’s life in its full scope. This movie walks you up the topic, but then drops it.