“Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann, has been the subject of much internet ridicule. NPR called the film “dazzlingly absurd,” Mashable called it “weird, dark and confusing,” while The Daily Beast wrote it was “very loud” [and] so boring. Luhrmann’s creations have also been criticized for not attacking the King of Rock and Roll for his “appropriation of black culture,” and according to Rolling Stone, TikTok’s Gen Z users — the epitome of cultural expertise — are “calling out for him.”
When I learned that a new Elvis movie was in the works, I thought, “Elvis? real? Why Elvis, of all people? “For me, trying to recreate Elvis’ animal appeal on screen is like telling people how good a fresh gelato is through a text description. You just can’t.
Still, I love this movie.Not because star Austin Butler captured the King’s charisma – I agree with critics who said Butler nailed the voice and dance moves but was “not Elvis’ soul or sexiness” – but because it made I’m reminded of the feeling of being captivated by a celebrity who exudes authenticity, irresistible I have no idea.
Early scenes in the film show a young Elvis taking the stage to perform his first act. He was nervous and lived very slowly. But when he did, the crowd went wild, and puritanical 1950s housewives in hats and gloves were upset and worried that their daughters were screaming and fainting for “Pelvis Elvis,” being satanic agents or something attached to it.
By today’s standards, Miley Cyrus twisting her fingers on Robin Thicke in a flesh-colored plastic bikini is now considered one of her tame performances, with little provocation from Elvis. But at the time, as Luhrmann illustrates, Elvis was doing something innovative and bold. He was initially censored on television, and his performances were edited to comply with FCC regulations. Still, as ClassicRockHistory.com points out, “Elvis’ talent, work ethic, drive, and appeal trumped the censor’s ability to put the brakes on the Elvis train.”
Hollywood clones dare not speak
These days, however, the worst thing you can do for your Hollywood career is to challenge the status quo and not “beat the censors.” You didn’t become a star, you got cancelled for daring to fight against the system. Your voice is cut off and your career is over. See what happened to Gina Carano, Antonio Sabato Jr., and many other stars who were silenced for being different. So we’re left with a Hollywood of boring, uninteresting plastic clones who are afraid to think, speak, or act on their own.
It makes sense: if you’re afraid to make up your mind and express yourself sincerely, how artistically and creatively can you really be? To be the star you are now, you can hardly relate to people without social media, it is the zeitgeist of the modern conformist age, where actions and opinions are censored and echoed with eternity. If you have an idea or do something but don’t post it online, does it really happen?
known for doing nothing
Jennifer Aniston recently came under fire for accusing the internet of creating “a new culture about people being famous. People famous for basically doing nothing. I mean – Paris Hilton, Moni Ka Lewinsky, all that…you’re famous on TikTok. You’re famous on YouTube. You’re famous on Instagram. It kind of dilutes what our actors do.”
Aniston, whose parents are actors, was attacked for her “nepotism baby.” But there were also plenty of people who defended her, pointing out that in the ’90s you “actually have to be talented.” I was struck by this truth recently while watching another blockbuster in the cinema. My brother and I both thought Top Gun: Maverick was funny, but our reactions were the same: the actors who played the young gunslingers—the Executioner and the Cock—was just lame, especially with Maverick’s effortless effort. Has the entertainment-loving bravado compared to Iceman and the goose in the original movie.
These young people just don’t have the swagger or imagination needed to make their characters memorable. They’re good-looking and capable, but like Butler’s Elvis, they seem more like imitators with their self-made cool factor than movie stars. Think James Dean in Giants, Marlon Brando in Wild Men, John Wayne in True Courage, or Humphrey Bowes in Key Largo Jia. What makes Old Hollywood so revered is that its members are bold enough to provide audiences with admirably vibrant personalities.
It didn’t help that I watched “Elvis” and “The Maverick” around the same time I rewatched the 1989 “Lonely Dove” mini-series, even the little ones are stars in their own right. The way Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones use speech patterns and mannerisms to make their characters captivating, authentic and memorable is superb. But I don’t see that kind of boldness in new actors and “influencers,” who fit a cookie-cutter mold but lack lasting flavor.
Deroy Murdock wrote that the “Elvis” film “highlights two key aspects of American exceptionalism: the eternal quest for success and this country’s infinite path to personal reinvention.” In a world where Hollywood’s “pursuit of success” requires nothing more than posting erotic selfies, and where cancel culture makes “personal reinvention” largely impossible, the film is a hilarious reminder that, not too long ago, characters could be more than lives. Greatness, style is worth it, and celebrity is worth celebrating.
Teresa Mull is an assistant editor at Spectator World from Pennsylvania Wilderness.