Eugene Jarecki (director)
24 August 2018 (released)
31 August 2018
At times jumbled The King’s mixture of travel, landscape and comment is undeniably ambitious in scope as it used two Icons to try and pry open the underbelly of America and what that Dream actually means now.
It’s forty years since the death of Elvis Presley and director Eugene Jarecki has taken The King’s 1963 Rolls Royce across America. Taking in the music of the journey that Elvis took from Memphis to Las Vegas and a lot in-between. He explores the musical legacy as Elvis rose and fell and uses him as metaphor for the country that has changed much in those forty years. Or has it really?
Jarecki tries to encapsulate and explain the mythical American Dream as he talks to the people of Tupelo and Memphis. Sure, there’s some pride in the Elvis association but these days its commerce and he’s what keeps the town running and people employed.
As we cross America so the Elvis story unfolds his early years when he was new and a rebel. There are the films that for the main part were awful but he got paid well. And that’s an element that keeps cropping up: Money. He appeared to be driven by it regardless of the tat he was asked to do. Ethan Hawke is clear on that: it’s about the cash.
The 1950’s were his big years and when the Beatles hit the US he was seen as something of a relic. Still successful and sought after but now looking indulgent and popping pills. In fact, it seems he was never in control as Tom Parker took over his business and some could say his life.
As the Rolls goes on its picks up people who have a story or two tell, and tune to play. But the real meat of this documentary are the interviews laced through it. There’s the usual fawning though others aren’t quite so caught up with the legend. Chuck D on the contentious issues of the appropriation of the black music and Elvis’s stance on civil rights at the time - where was he? And makes the pertinent point of who anointed him ’The King’? Ashton Kutcher is totally honest when asked about his fame and wealth that what he’s done doesn’t merit it, and that for some the fame and the money is to protect them from that.
it’s stunning film in parts as the Rolls meanders through some magnificent landscapes. Though it does cut an incongruous shape in some of the smaller towns that aren’t ignored as the journey continues. Nearing the end, the spectre of Trump appears told parallel to Elvis’s return in 1968 that was a classic but didn’t press on. The lure of Vegas the sequins, casinos, business, manipulation and money were too much and too easy.
It’s a novel, instructive and entertaining way of telling the Elvis story, albeit that much of is known, and looking at America then, now and going forward. There is no final conclusion but what emerges is a very complicated country, still rife with division, and built on the huge aspiration that its people will find prosperity, while the reality appears to be that very few ever will.