How accurate is the new Elvis biopic?

ELVIS BIOPIC

Whenever a new biopic depicting the life of a famous person hits cinemas, there’s always a question of just how much of it is really accurate.

Baz Luhrmann’s new Elvis follows the rise of Elvis Presley (played by Austin Butler) and the role of his nearly career-long manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). In an interview with Variety, biographer Alanna Nash has explored the realities of their story… and the fictional liberties taken by Luhrmann.

Nash published the book The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley in 2010. It follows Parker, a former carnie who made his fortune off the King, and whose pros and cons as a very, very controlling manager continue to be debated to this day.

When asked about how accurate the timeline of the film is, Nash replied “what timeline?”

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“It’s all a Baz Luhrmann fever dream. The past, present and future are all shook up like a ’50s milkshake and served with a thousand straws!,” she continued.

“Other than the tremendous pains Baz has taken to make this story seem ‘woke’,” Nash continued, “the liberties are essentially fair –– except to Parker. In making him such an antagonist, they have robbed him of his many accomplishments with his client.

In Luhrmann’s film, a central point of the story is Parker trying to pressure Elvis to tone down his sex appeal. But Nash says that wasn’t the case at all.

“Parker loved it that Elvis was like a male striptease artist… like the bally girls on the carnivals. That sold tickets! The only time Parker got critical is when the shows began to falter with drugs or erratic behaviour on stage. But that was in the ’70s.”

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And the concert riot scene in the film, where Elvis deliberately disobeyed Parker’s orders was totally fabricated as well.

“He did not advise Elvis on any aspect of his performance,” Nash said. “Headlines about how lascivious early Elvis was sold concert tickets.”

Nash then turned to Hanks’ accent, saying that it wasn’t at all similar to Parker’s real voice. “Baz wanted to make him seem more ‘other’.”

She says that Luhrmann told her: “I thought it was very important that Tom present the audience with a strangeness, a sort of ‘What is going on with this guy?'”

One thing that was very accurate was Luhrmann’s depiction of the Colonel’s gambling addiction. He had huge gambling debts that he was only able to pay off by committing Elvis to a single Vegas hotel for years.

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“Elvis never knew how many shows he played free to satisfy Parker’s enslavement to the roulette wheel and the craps table. In fact, Colonel didn’t even have to go down to the casino. The hotel would bring a roulette wheel to his room.”

In the movie, Luhrmann conveys that almost all of Elvis’ primary music influences were Black artists. But Nash says this also isn’t accurate. “Luhrmann has really framed this through a present-day lens. Elvis had just as many white influences.”

“But,” she continued, “living in a ‘coloured’ neighbourhood, as he did, he certainly heard early R&B, jump-blues and swing tunes pulsating through the walls at the nearby juke joints, and he loved it, as he did both Black and white gospel.”

Parker trying to convince Elvis to join the army. In the movie, it’s insinuated that it was to put a lid on the star’s sexual energy and image.

“Parker wanted Elvis to go not to Special Services, where the army was happy to put him, but to serve his time as any other soldier,” Nash explained. “This would sand the rough edges off his image and bring him back as the all-American boy fit for family entertainment with Frank Sinatra.”

“It’s kind of like Priscilla letting Baz make Parker out to be such a villain, but is now having Hanks and Baz say they toned down the Colonel’s evilness once they met with her, because Parker was a good guy. They’re having it both ways.”

She then confirmed that Parker did everything in his power to make sure Elvis didn’t fulfil his wish of touring internationally. “Parker had no passport and couldn’t go and didn’t trust any other promoter to take him.

“He cited several reasons –– primarily security –– and not big enough venues, or said the money wasn’t right. Near the end of his life, Parker is said to have been speaking with two promoters about this, since Elvis was so deeply unhappy about never getting to go tour Europe, but it never happened.”

Nash ended the interview by saying that The Colonel really got the short end of the stick in terms of how he was depicted by Luhrmann.

“The Colonel is a complicated character, and while he always took too much of Presley’s money, he made some very sound decisions for him. Luhrmann hasn’t really given him his due by a long shot.”

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Scott Baber
Scott Baber
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Manages incoming enquiries and advertising. Based in London and very sporty. Worked news and sports desks in local paper after graduating.

Email Scott@MarkMeets.com

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