There are several things I look forward to every Elvis Week – watching lots of Elvis movies, having the number of visitors to ElvisBlog spike, and reading a special column written by John Beifuss, Memphis Commercial Appeal Movie Critic. It is his annual survey of Elvis references in movies.
Here is how Beifuss explains it:
“Every year, as I watch movies in my capacity as film reviewer for the Commercial Appeal, I take note of each reference I see or hear to Memphis’ favorite son, Elvis Presley. In most cases, the Elvis allusion was brief: a photo of the famous face, a snippet of a song. But in some cases, the King made an impact — especially in “The Identical,” a film entirely inspired by the Elvis story.”
Let’s take a look at what Beifuss discovered.
The inspiration for this movie’s plot was actually Elvis’ stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon. However, in the movie, both twins live but are separated. One grows up to be a superstar singer known as “Drexel the Dream.” The other brother succumbs to his adopted father’s pressure to enter the ministry. As the years pass, he is pulled by the urge entertain, and he begins to tour as a professional impersonator of “The Dream” (who he doesn’t know is his brother). So, in the movie we have “The Dream” and “The Identical,” certainly an allusion to ”The King” and the Elvis Tribute Artists.
The central characters of this film are Margaret Keane, the artist who created the popular portraits of strange big-eyed waifs, and her husband Walter, who took credit for them. When Margaret walks into a Honolulu radio station, we see a copy of Elvis album “Blue Hawaii.”
Good Ol’ Freda:
This is a biographical documentary that made the rounds of the independent movie festivals. The title character is Freda Kelly, a teenager who in 1963became the Beatles’ first fan-club secretary in in Liverpool. The office where she worked had pictures of Elvis on the walls, but she stressed that she “didn’t like” Elvis. Only the Beatles for her.
If you’ve seen this Reese Witherspoon movie, perhaps you noticed the soundtrack included “Don’t Be Cruel.” Did you notice that the vocal wasn’t Elvis’? In fact, it was Billy Swan’s cover version from his album Like Elvis Used to Do. I have the CD, and Billy does a great job on all 14 Elvis songs.
In this film about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights campaign in Alabama, the Elvis reference is a strange one. Army troops had been sent in to keep order, and one officer commented on the extremely mean local sheriff: “If the Lord Jesus himself and Elvis Presley both came to him together and told him to go easy on the Negroes, he would beat the (crap) out of the two of them and throw them in jail.”
The Book of Life:
You can see the Elvis-inspired character right next to the big guitar in the poster above. It is a Mexican matador-turned-mariachi named Manolo with Elvis hair and sideburns. His love interest is there, too, holding a pig. He serenades her with a version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.”
Christoph Waltz plays a crooked, double-dealing entrepreneur who offers to bankroll production of the invention by the three guys in the photo. Of course, he tries to squeeze them out. We get a glimpse of his trophy room full of souvenirs, probably obtained illegally. In addition to a Jimi Hendricks guitar, a Picasso painting, and a dinosaur skull, he was an Elvis jumpsuit.
In spite of its serious theme, this movie injects some perverse comedy, including a couple of flippant Elvis references in the dialogue. A good example is when the high-powered lawyer departs on an out-of-state mission, and Ben Affleck’s sister cracks, “Elvis has left Missouri.”
A mysterious potion prompts a group of elves, goblins, imps, and fairies on an incredible adventure in this fantasy. Believe it or not, the story was inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From the picture above, it’s hard to believe the movie is filled with several renditions of love-themed pop songs, including a duet on “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The Elvis ballad was a popular choice for movies in the past year.
Love and Mercy:
This story about the Beachboys’ Brian Wilson has a brief mention about Elvis. Hal Blaine, a famous Southern California session drummer, is outside the studio in one scene talking to Wilson. He says, “We’ve played with everyone, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis, Phil Spector … Sam Cooke … everyone. But you — you gotta know that you’re touched, kid, and it’s blowing our minds.”
I look forward to Elvis Week 2016 when John Beifuss will again report on all the Elvis allusions he found in the year’s movies.
To read all of the articles in this series, click here.
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