Have you noticed how Elvis continues to loom so large in American pop-culture? One significant example of this is his presence in a dozen or so movies every year. Not necessarily as a character, but in more subtle ways, like his name being used in dialog, or his image in video clips or photos visible in a scene, or his songs playing in the background (or over the credits), or familiar Elvis trappings like jumpsuits and those famous sunglasses, or even his well-known moves and mannerisms.
I was fortunate to stumble unto an article on www.GoMemphis.com by John Beifuss, movie critic for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. Each year during Elvis Week, Beifuss presents what he calls the “Annual Survey of Elvis Allusions in the Movies.” Mt Beifuss’ lists are very inclusive, covering not only hit movies but also little-viewed critical failures and low-budget independent films . However, today we will just look at some of the more popular movies of the past few years that contained Elvis content.
The Dark Knight:
I’ll bet would wouldn’t expect to see Elvis in a Batman movie, but he was. Remember how the police were trying to figure out Batman’s identity in The Dark Night. If you looked closely at the police bulletin board showing “Batman Suspects,” you would see pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Bigfoot and Elvis. This was an attempt to put some humor in an otherwise grim film. If you watch it again, keep an eye out for the photo of Elvis spreading the cape of his jumpsuit, Batman style.
Hannah Montana, The Movie:
Elvis’ image was featured in a comedy bit in this film, too. John Beifuss described it as follows: “Billy Ray Cyrus gives grandma a coveted Elvis plate to complete her display collection [of] Country Music Legends dishes. Says grandma, ‘There’s only one King, and I’ve been saving him a place of honor.’ Unfortunately, slapstick ensues, and all the plates fall and break except for the Elvis plate, which Billy Ray catches. ‘Great news, everybody, Elvis is alive and well,’ he exclaims, brandishing the plate – and smashing it against a nearby chandelier.”
One of Meryl Streep’s buddies in this movie was played by Julie Walters (she was left off the DVD cover). During the “Dancing Queen” number, Walters wears Elvis sunglasses and does a little Elvis imitation when these lyrics are sung: “Friday night and the lights are down low/ Looking out for the place to go/ Where they play the right music, getting in the swing/ You come in to look for a king. That may be a weak connection, but there is a better one during the end credits. Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgrd wear Elvis jumpsuits during the big sequence of wild musical performances.
This movie uses the device of Elvis being on television to twice make commentary on the music industry. First, when Chuck Berry sees Elvis on the tube, he says, “There’s your king.” Later, as Muddy Waters prepares to go to Little Walter’s funeral, Elvis is performing on TV. The song during the funeral montage has a deeper message about the extra challenge for black musicians in that era. The song is “My Babe,” a Little Walter classic, but it is sung by Elvis.
Because this animated musical had a papa penguin central character named Memphis, you can be sure it had Elvis references. Memphis (voiced by Hugh Jackman) did several Elvis moves, and even sang “Heartbreak Hotel” to his true love, Norma Jean. We have had Elvis/Marilyn Monroe pairings in art and Photoshopped pictures, and now there is one in a cartoon.
The Lucky Ones:
This definitely was not a musical, but a guitar supposedly once owned by Elvis gets a lot of screen time. The movie is about a trio of Iraq war veterans traveling across America, Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins and Michael Peña. McAdams said she got the guitar from her dead soldier boyfriend, Randy. “Randy got the guitar from his daddy, who got it from his granddaddy, who got it from Elvis.” The truth turns out to be something different, but the guitar still plays a part in the plot arc.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story:
John Beifuss does a good job explaining this movie: “Rock star Jack White briefly appears as Elvis in Walk Hard, a spoof of music piopics with John C. Riley as the Johnny Cash-esque title goofball. We see a marquee that reads: ‘Tonight – Elvis Presley and Others,’ then see Elvis… proclaiming ‘Ah’m the King,’ and demonstrating the martial art of ’kara-tay, known only to two kinds of people, the Chinese and the King.’ Elvis gives Dewey his big break when he lets him close a show (‘Elvis wants to get out of here early – he’s hungry’).” This was not a very favorable depiction of Elvis.
Two Elvis songs are featured in this comedy about Santa Claus’ loser brother. “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” plays over a montage of Christmas scenes. And, Fred tries to jack up the elves in the workshop by replacing traditional Christmas music with the remix of “Rubberneckin’.”
Many thanks to John Beifuss for doing the research. Part 2, next week.
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