nine years later The Great GatsbyDirector of Red windmill Baz Luhrmann offers a “Shakespearian” view of the life of Elvis Presley, through that of Colonel Parker, the King’s famous businessman. Starring Austin Butler, whose performance won unanimous approval at the Cannes Film Festival, and Tom Hanks, Elvis brings the icon to life on the big screen.
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Recognized for his flamboyant approach to directing, thanks to films like strictly ballroom, romeo+juliet Y Red windmillBaz Luhrmann is part of a generation that grew up listening to the hits of David Bowie, Elton John and Michael Jackson, rather than the singer of love me Tender. For the Australian filmmaker, the desire to make a feature film about the life of Elvis Presley stems above all from the exceptional nature of the artist’s performances on stage, but also from the social context in which he operates.
“In performance, Elvis was a force of nature,” recalls Baz Luhrmann during a virtual press conference in which Press has participated. I resisted for a long time the desire to tell his life in the cinema, until I realized that a great idea deserved to be explored through him. To understand today’s world, you have to go back to the 50s, 60s and 70s. At that time a thirst for renewal was established that notably crystallized in a convergence of different cultures in music. What makes Elvis’s life a tragedy is the way he was exploited. »
Amadeo for model
In thinking about this feature film for five years, the filmmaker wanted to take a “Shakespearian” approach to go beyond the traditional biographical drama. In his eyes, the greatest role model of the genre is still Amadeo, a masterpiece made by Milos Forman almost 40 years ago. In the same way that the director of Flight over a cuckoo’s nest told, by bringing to the screen the work of Peter Schaffer, the story of Mozart through the vision of his “rival” Salieri, Baz Luhrmann chose to tell that of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) borrowing the vision of Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks ). The latter managed the singer’s career by squeezing the most out of the lemon.
“It is also that Elvis was himself a man of few words, specifies the filmmaker. Rather, he revealed himself through his songs and actions. He was also very sensitive, very worried, but he exploded on stage. »
Having emerged at a time when the United States was in crisis, Elvis Presley can hardly be divorced from the political and social context of a time when demands for greater social justice, including recognition of civil rights for African Americans, were beginning to be loud and strong. Sure.
“Politics is not the subject of the film, but the truth is that it is always there, implicitly,” says Baz Luhrmann. It is impossible to talk about the life of Elvis Presley without talking about segregation and racism. He was at the heart of this reality. Meeting people who knew him at Graceland, I could see how Elvis was a spiritual being, very drawn to gospel music. In a short time, tragic things have also happened on the political level: the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King. Robert Kennedy was assassinated while Elvis was filming the television special that marked his return to music. »
Austin Butler, great asset
Above all, Baz Luhrmann wanted to make Elvis’s life into a cinematic spectacle. He practically made a calling out of it.
“I carry within me a passion for cinema that comes from my childhood,” he says. I love this idea of bringing strangers together in a dark room and sharing common emotions. I almost made it my mission, especially with what we’ve been through in the last two years. »
Aware that his extravagant approach may not always be unanimous (criticism the day after the release ofElvis at the Cannes Film Festival were quite heterogeneous), the filmmaker is sure, in any case, of a great asset: Austin Butler.
“When I first met Austin, he had already been living with Elvis in his head for quite some time. To the point that it’s hard for me to say today if it was really me who chose him. It’s that big. I did every possible and imaginable test with him. Everyone will have their opinion on this film and it is not for me to express one, but I can say unequivocally that Austin’s performance is impressive. »
For the new generations
The filmmaker is also well aware that by bringing to the screen the life of an icon who continues to loom so large in the American collective imagination, even 45 years after his death, he is exposing himself to the grievances of die-hard fans of Elvis Presley. .
“I understand the emotions of the Elvis fans. He opened so many doors for me that I gave myself the mandate to tell his story and that of Colonel Parker to new generations. But I didn’t make this movie to tell you that you should love it as much as your elders. »
Elvis hits theaters June 24.
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