Elvis

Elvis ★★★½

Work-for-hire dilemma: the man who had just made a haunted-car movie critiquing rock-n-roll/teen-culture as a rebellious, acting-out way of expressing the same negative values that are embedded in the dominant culture has to make a movie that won't piss off Elvis fans. Does he succeed in having it both ways?

At least intermittently, he does. There's a Sirkian double perspective at play here that invites reading against-the-grain, and it becomes more visible as the movie builds up steam; the most obvious example is at the very end, the career-spanning montage set to an Elvis-sound arrangement of Battle Hymn Of The Republic: the Pilgrimage-to-Graceland audience can understand that as "(Elvis'es) truth is marching on," and Elvis agnostics can read it as "Elvis' status as cultural icon is so imbued with the false values this song exemplifies (racism, militarism, etc) that you can't tell where one ends and the other begins." (And the scene where Mom and Dad hear his first record on the raddio for the first time features an infuriating factual error that Carpenter surely knew was wrong but left in from the orig. script anyway because it spotlighted the way Elvis' ascendency helped in erasing black performers from visibility.)

Similarly, the bigger narrative beats are usually set within environments that stress the banality of Elvis'America as a cultural model -- the Texaco station where he finds out that Bonnie has left him, the shabby-ass mobile home where all those tender mother/son scenes play out... I chortled inside when I saw the bookshelves in Graceland packed end to end with volumes of Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

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