Kurt Rus­sell’s ‘Elvis’ TV movie gets Blu-ray reis­sue

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO SEE - By John Bei­fuss

In the 1963 film “It Hap­pened at the World’s Fair,” 11-year-old Kurt Rus­sell, in his un­billed film de­but, plays a brat who kicks Elvis Pres­ley in the shins.

Six­teen years later, Rus­sell kicked the tires of the Elvis myth, so to speak, when he por­trayed the late King of Rock and Roll in “Elvis,” an ABC made­for-tv movie (re­leased the­atri­cally in Europe) that marked the first team­ing of Rus­sell and di­rec­tor John Car­pen­ter, a col­lab­o­ra­tion — the duo fol­lowed “Elvis” with “Es­cape from New York,” “The Thing” and “Big Trou­ble in Lit­tle China” — that is as epochal for younger film buffs as the union of John Ford and John Wayne was for their cinephile el­ders.

Re­spect­ful, un­pre­ten­tious and char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally el­e­gant (for Car­pen­ter), if some­what un­gainly in its sub­sti­tu­tion of Cal­i­for­nia real es­tate for Mem­phis and Mis­sis­sippi lo­ca­tions, the mod­estly bud­geted “Elvis” re­mains the de­fin­i­tive screen por­trayal of Pres­ley (at least un­til the ar­rival of the TV se­ries “Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet” or the re­al­iza­tion of the Elvis projects planned by such cre­ators as Mick Jag­ger and Craig Brewer). The movie was a rat­ings block­buster when it pre­miered Feb. 11, 1979, beat­ing “Gone With the Wind” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on the two op­pos­ing com­mer­cial net­works, but in suc­ceed­ing years it has been any­thing but ubiq­ui­tous, in part be­cause Dick Clark Pro­duc­tions keeps a firm hand on its prop­er­ties and in part be­cause its 148-minute length is some­what un­wieldy for ca­ble TV pro­gram­mers.

This month, “Elvis” got a new lease on life. On Aug. 16, which marked the 39th an­niver­sary of the singer’s death, “Elvis” made its Blu­ray de­but as an in­au­gu­ral ti­tle in the Shout! Fac­tory la­bel’s new “Shout Se­lect” line of “hand-picked” ti­tles, which will range from “ac­knowl­edged clas­sics to cult fa­vorites to un­her­alded gems.” The other “Shout Se­lect” ti­tles re­leased this month are “Col­lec­tor’s Edi­tions” of “The Ad­ven­tures of Bucka­roo Ban­zai Across the 8th Di­men­sion” (1984) and “Mid­night Run” (1988). (Shout! Fac­tory pre­vi­ously had is­sued “Elvis” on DVD, in 2010.)

In a vin­tage pro­mo­tional fea­turette that is one of the bonus fea­tures on the Blu-ray (re­cy­cled from the DVD), Car­pen­ter — com­ing to “Elvis” a year af­ter the break­out suc­cess of “Hal­loween” — de­scribes the biopic as “a per­sonal film, be­cause I love Elvis a lot.” The di­rec­tor de­fines Elvis as “a hu­man be­ing” who “be­came myth­i­cal.” The same could be said of Michael My­ers, the killer pro­tag­o­nist of “Hal­loween.” “Elvis,” like “Hal­loween,” is in part a psy­cho­log­i­cal study with a hint of the su­per­nat­u­ral, as the some­what guilt-rid­den Elvis com­munes with his shadow self, his dead twin, Jesse Garon Pres­ley, an in­sub­stan­tial yet in­escapable pres­ence rep­re­sented by the singer’s shadow on the wall.

Such sto­ry­telling wasn’t en­tirely ap­pre­ci­ated by Elvis as­so­ci­ates. “Num­ber one, Elvis didn’t sit and talk to his still­born twin — they got that crap from Geller (Larry Geller, Elvis’ hair­styl­ist) be­cause he’s into what I call Cal­i­for­nia cult crap,” long­time Elvis friend Marty Lacker (who still lives in Mem­phis, and is cred­ited as an “ad­di­tional con­sul­tant” on the film) told The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal in 2010. “And Kurt Rus­sell, who’s a good ac­tor, they had him por­tray Elvis as the sad­dest per­son in the world, and he wasn’t. Our nick­name for him was ‘Crazy,’ for his crazy sense of hu­mor.” (In fact, Elvis is called “crazy” in the movie, but it’s an in­sult, hurled by a Tu­pelo bully when the boy Pres­ley is talk­ing to Jesse Garon while tak­ing flow­ers to the twin’s hum­ble grave.)

Ob­jec­tions aside, “Elvis” clearly was con­ceived as a sym­pa­thetic cor­rec­tive to the tabloid-abet­ted im­age of Pres­ley as a sweaty, bloated, jump­suited self­par­ody that was preva­lent (not with­out rea­son) in the years be­fore the singer’s death, and that con­tin­ues to dog his legacy. It’s re­mark­able that Car­pen­ter’s film de­buted only 18 months af­ter Pres­ley’s shock­ing death at 42, at a time when the sta­tions of the Elvis cross — the im­pov­er­ished child­hood in Tu­pelo, the Humes High School tal­ent show, the truck driver’s au­di­tion at Sun, the meet­ing with Col. Tom Parker, the stint in the Army, the bad beach movies, the mar­riage to Priscilla and so on — were not en­tirely fa­mil­iar, and when such de­fin­i­tive re­sources as the Peter Gu­ral­nick two-vol­ume bi­og­ra­phy were years away. (Even Al­bert Goldman’s scathing best-seller “Elvis” didn’t ar­rive un­til 1981.)

Com­pared to the demon­stra­tive, ex­citable style of to­day’s com­mer­cial biopics, the episodic “Elvis” feels sub­dued, al­most “arty” — closer to Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” than to “Ray” or to the James Brown movie, “Get On Up.” Af­ter all the suc­cess and fame, “I still feel like there’s some­thing miss­ing,” Pres­ley muses at one point, and that might be the Elvis char­ac­ter’s mantra.

Sup­port­ing char­ac­ters go miss­ing, too. Per­haps for le­gal rea­sons, the movie never even men­tions Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis or other Elvis con­tem­po­raries, but it does bring in the likes of ac­tor Nick Adams (Den­nis Christo­pher), Natalie Wood (Abi Young), Red West (Robert Gray), Mar­ion Keisker (Ellen Tra­volta) and, of course, Col. Tom Parker (Pat Hin­gle), Sam Phillips (Charles Cyphers), Priscilla (Sea­son Hub­ley, who mar­ried Rus­sell a month af­ter “Elvis” de­buted), and Elvis’ par­ents, Ver­non (Kurt’s fa­ther, Bing Rus­sell, who is ex­cel­lent) and Gla­dys (Shel­ley Win­ters, who in the Blu-ray fea­turette re­ports that Elvis and Natalie Wood used to cud­dle on the white chair and ot­toman in her Hol­ly­wood home and “neck”).

The cast MVP, how­ever, is un­seen singer Ron­nie Mcdow­ell, who pro­vides the Elvis vo­cals that Rus­sell lip-syncs. Mcdow­ell is so ef­fec­tive that the ab­sence of ac­tual Elvis record­ings is hardly missed, and the mu­sic per­for­mances are gen­er­ous: “That’s All Right,” “Heart­break Ho­tel,” “Sus­pi­cious Minds,” and so on. But if Rus­sell can’t sing, he’s a con­vinc­ing and en­er­getic on­stage wig­gler, whether at the Grand Ole Opry or at the In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel. (The movie be­gins and ends in 1969, with Elvis’ tri­umphant Las Ve­gas come­back, so the “fat Elvis” and the unglam­orous cir­cum­stances of Elvis’ death are non­fac­tors.)

“Re­stored from the orig­i­nal film el­e­ments,” ac­cord­ing to Shout! Fac­tory pub­lic­ity, the “Elvis” Blu­ray re­tails for $27.99 (but is avail­able at a much lower price from most sources). For more in­for­ma­tion, visit shout­fac­tory.com.

Cour­tesy of shout! fac­tory

the mar­riage of elvis (Kurt rus­sell) and Priscilla (sea­son hub­ley) is recre­ated in John Car­pen­ter’s “elvis.”

the 1979 movie “elvis” makes its Blu-ray de­but this month.

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