The response to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, 2022, has tended to be favourable. Rotten Tomatoes scores the movie at 77% positive while IMBd gives it 7.4 out of 10. When the movie is criticised, it tends to be for the portrayal of Elvis’s controlling manager, for the pace which prioritises speed over nuance, and for the overblown Luhrmannesque aesthetic.
Reviewing the film, Uncut Magazine comments that it “is best experienced as a showbiz panto, with famous names flitting by”. If there is one thing that the critics agree on, it is the fine performance of Austin Butler, which has been described as “stunning” and “terrific”. In the side-by-side video below, one sees just how well Butler did as Elvis.
Jailhouse Rock was the theme song from Presley’s third movie, which was released in 1957. From 1958 to 1960 Elvis Presley served in the US Army. After his army stint, Elvis filmed G.I. Blues, which was accompanied by a successful soundtrack album. In March 1961, Presley performed a concert – a fund raiser for a memorial for the USS Arizona – that was to be his last public show for 7 years. Thereafter his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, pushed Elvis into making movies and forbad live concerts.
As the films became ever more formulaic, and as Parker stopped him from recording anything but soundtracks, Elvis became depressed and disillusioned. When Presley’s film career ground to a halt in 1967, Parker had the idea of an Elvis Christmas special on NBC. Fortunately, TV-producer Bob Finkel managed to shift the special towards what became the famous ’68 Comeback Special. Both the performance of Jailhouse Rock and the next comparison video, If I Could Dream, are from the 1968 Special.
The story behind If I Could Dream is interesting. Steve Binder, who directed the 1968 concert film, envisaged closing the Special with a spoken word piece, with Presley reacting to the recent assassinations of Robert F Kennedy and particularly Rev Martin Luther King, whose shooting in Memphis, Tennessee, greatly moved Elvis Presley.
During the filming, Binder changed his mind. Binder pressurised Billy Goldenberg, the musical director, to write a song that evoked Presley and his ideals with lyricist Walter Earl Brown. By the next morning, Brown had come up with “If I Can Dream”. Colonel Tom Parker held out for I’ll be Home For Christmas as the closing song, but Elvis and Binder were determined and If I Could Dream concluded the 50-minute TV Special.
Encouraged by the response to the Special, Elvis Presley returned to recording music that was not for soundtracks. He soon recorded the music that became the acclaimed From Elvis in Memphis LP and released the classic singles In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds. In the next side-by-side video, Austin Butler recreates Elvis singing Suspicious Minds:
It is clear from the comparison videos that Austin Butler made a dynamic and convincing Elvis Presley. Impressively, Butler also sang his parts, though for the sections of the film dealing with Elvis’s residency in Las Vegas, Lurhmann mixed Elvis’s voice with Butlers.
Quoted on Goodto.com, Butler says: “When I began the process, I set out to get my voice to be identical. That instils fear. So that got the fire burning. For a year before we started shooting, I was doing voice coaching. I feel such a responsibility to Elvis and to [ex-wife] Priscilla and [daughter] Lisa Marie, and all the people around the world who love him so much.”