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  King, The Well It's-a One For The Money
Year: 2017
Director: Eugene Jarecki
Stars: Elvis Presley, Alec Baldwin, James Carville, Rosanne Cash, Chuck D, Lana Del Rey, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, John Hiatt, Ashton Kutcher, Greil Marcus, Scotty Moore, Mike Myers, Dan Rather, Jerry Schilling, Linda Thompson
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It has been around forty years since Elvis Presley, proclaimed the King of Rock 'n' Roll in his lifetime, died at his Graceland home in Memphis, but filmmaker Eugene Jarecki believes he still has something to say to the world of the twenty-first century, and the future. With that in mind, he has bought one of Presley's old cars, a 1963 Rolls Royce, and driven it across the United States to gather various interviews with people who knew the man, and those who have an opinion of him, which turns out to be just about everybody. This is a tale of the American Dream, and how we can view that through the prism of Elvis's ultimate embodiment of that, with all its problems.

Out of all the twentieth century pop culture icons, it's a pretty safe bet that Presley will be remembered centuries into the future when oh so many others will be forgotten who seemed important at the time, But this does mean there have been vast swathes of writing and recording about the man and his seismic impact on the world that leaves, it would appear, very little fresh to observe about him, which was presumably why Jarecki sought to bring something new to the table by addressing him not as a figure who passed away in 1977 and was thereafter left to the tribute acts, compilation albums and clips shows, but as someone who can tell us about the here and now.

To an extent, he succeeds, as nothing exists in a vacuum, certainly not pop culture: as it is pointed out here, cultural appropriation is what America was built on, from all sides, and you can apply that to the rest of the globe as the U.S.A. spread its influence like an empire with war and its media. This would argue its media has been far more successful at bringing the nation into every other nation than a guided missile ever would, with its generals not some military men, but the corporations that sell the entertainment to the masses. It was a very intriguing take on what Presley came to represent, but that was not to say it lost sight of the rather tragic individual at the heart of it.

Indeed, there was a sense that the writer-director had too much on his plate, as the documentary tended to sprawl and travel hither and yon, as the not always functional Roller did, which had in its "all things to all people" take on the man a feeling that you could link any subject at all into Elvis and it would still seem valid. That was as much a testament to the entertainer, whose life contained multitudes, as it was Jarecki's desire to make a state of the nation piece that had been filmed at the point that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were vying to lead the country, with almost every commentator saying Trump was a joke candidate and you couldn't buy yourself the Presidency. Naturally, this didn't work out too badly for the film's message as the warning America was going to Hell in a handcart was integral to the theme.

That theme being to compare the rise and fall of Elvis Presley to the rise and (supposed) fall of his homeland, among other things, including such subjects as race, the military, the economy, and so forth. It was perhaps Presley's almost unique position as a cultural crossroads, where he took elements of many aspects of society from rich to poor to white to black to triumphant to failure and embodied them all. Of course some of the commentators have opinions on this, and do not always like what Elvis represented to them, with Chuck D's famous retort that Elvis was racist in Fight the Power once again coming under the microscope: he wasn't, he loved black culture after growing up with it, but then again you never saw him participate in the Civil Rights movement either, and he kept his political views very much to himself. Had he been outspoken on the matters, would he have been as enduring as he was? Respect for him crosses many borders; the film compares him to Muhammad Ali, who was never backward about coming forward, and had his own trials and successes as a result. If there was a accomplishment here, it was in making you think, but if there was a drawback, it was that this really was all over the place, literally and figuratively.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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