The most riveting and upsetting movie I have seen in a long time. It is about Elvis and the USA. Story is told from people sitting in Elvis’ 1963 Rolls Royce Phantom, as they travel along the American roads. Chuck D, Ethan Hawke, and Mike Myers are among some of the people who offer their thoughts and feelings about Elvis, his life and his effect on them. Not everyone was an Elvis fan.
The film is also about us, Americans, in all our diversity.
The real story is about what happened to him and what happened to us. Take Memphis for example. Tennessee was a segregated slave state, which has monuments to slave owners in its downtown, even to this day. It also has homes that served as safe houses for runaway southern slaves as part of the underground railway. Memphis also was the symbolic home of the three Kings. BB King, who brought his Mississippi Delta sharecropper blues to Memphis and was part of the integration of black and white music. He played his music there and helped Stax music, the iconoclastic studio that broadcast black music to a white audience to get its audience. There is the second King, Elvis who brought his Mississippi poor boy hillbilly rhythm and blues to Memphis where he integrated it with black choir church music as well as the country sound associated with Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. It all was fused together during the heyday of Beale St. White and black musicians playing cross cultural music. For a brief moment there were no color lines on stage, or in the studios. Colonel Parker meets Motown. But the bottom line is the third King, Martin Luther King Jr who was assassinated in Memphis, by a racist. And then everything died. No longer would white and black make music together in Memphis.
The decline has continued to today. We had a brief moment when we thought we would finally bury hate and racism when Obama was elected, but the backlash has produced Donald Trump and white supremacy is on the rise.
The movies choice of the Rolls Royce to represent Elvis was an odd choice. I guess its the flamboyant Las Vegas Elvis. But he was more of an American dream and the Cadillac seems more representative to me. The theme is Elvis was young vital talented and shaped and represented a new young culture. Then he became famous and rich. Served as a soldier during Vietnam and sang in uniform after he was discharged. Then he went to Hollywood and was a shell of his former self and made horrible movies but made zillions. For one brief moment he donned his black leather outfit and sang his heart out in the fantastic 1968 Christmas special. He was in charge, cool and humbly honest. Then he went to Las Vegas and the wheels came off. He got fat, and was a corporate dog and pony show. He became addicted and died young.
America has followed the same path as we listen to Val Jones or Chuck Dee talk about another local boy from not far away in Louisville, who said no to being drafted and marched with Dr. King. Ali wasn’t going to kill some brown people for white America. He spent his post fighting days as a beacon for civil rights. Elvis said nothing, spoke for no one. All his decisions in music and career were made for money.
America has done the same with the election of Trump who represents the corporate, business money, greed mentality with a complete lack of morals. No civil rights leadership. Elvis and the culture of money ruined him and this movie postulates that this is what has happened to the USA. We are prisoners of bought politicians and corporate CEO’s and their for profit at the top only mentality.
Many of you will disagree with some elements of the movie. Too slanted. But if you are poor or black or Hispanic, or non prejudiced, this movie will rattle you. As the King would say, a whole lot of shakin’ going on.