ELVIS (THE EARLY YEARS), James Steven Sadwith 2005


I’m suffering from Elvismania lately and need to feed my curiosity with as much stuff of the King as possible.

I’ve started by reading the first part of a biography by Peter Guralnick called Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, which covers his childhood, teenage years and his rise to stardom until the military service period. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn from his early figure as a shy and humble character willing to learn and to please everyone, especially his parents, Vernon and Gladys.

I’ll keep on reading Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, by same author, which has been described as a masterpiece.

In the meantime I’m enjoying amazing shows such as ’68 Comeback Special, Aloha From Hawaii, The Lost Performances, and any documentary about the King, such as Elvis By the Presley’s, the Last 24 hours…everything I’m able to find.

We discovered this movie by chance, although it counts with famous actors seems that wasn’t advertised nor promoted at all, moreover instead of a proper film, it it more addressed to be one of these crappy telefilms to be broadcasted after lunch for not very critic audience.

Elvis, aka the Early Years, reviews in almost 3 hours the rising of Elvis into stardom, from the humble teenager discovered by Sam Phillips by chance to become the first and most prominent music superstar the history has witnessed, the army period, his years in Hollywood and eventually the point of inflection in his career, the ’68 Comeback Special.

Not only his artistic career was interesting but also his personal life and circumstances to understand who Elvis really was. He’s the most outstanding example of what the expression “from rags to riches” means: he grew up in a very poor family with constant economic problems due to Vernon’s difficulties in keeping a job, constantly moving from one house to another, brought up in a very religious environment, and overprotected by his mother, Gladys. His main aim was taking care of his folks and provide them as many commodities as possible, he lived in constant fear of turning back to where he came from, which probably caused him to depend on a slavery rich way of life, accepting any kind of deals his manager Colonel Tom Parker offered in order to save  huge amounts of money in his bank account which allowed him to carry an extravagant way of life but at the same time contributed to make him more lonesome and miserable.

Elvis in his golden lame suit

Elvis in his golden lame suit

Also relationships with women are reflected in the movie, however only 3 are more outstanding: Dixie, his first love from before he started to become a star; Priscilla, whose relationship started in Germany during his military service when she was 14 and who’d eventually become his wife and mother of his only child Lisa Marie; and Ann-Margret, a famous wild and rebel actress who co-started one of Elvis’ movies and apparently had an affair.

The subjects of loneliness and loyalty which are constant concerns for Elvis are also depicted in the film.

I could tell more and more about the plot, the actual life of Elvis Presley, but I prefer to encourage you not only to watch a film if you can get a bit more acquainted with Elvis both the figure and the person but also to read Guralnick’s books, which I think have inspired this telefilm, for many of the most outstanding moments in the movie are exactly the same as how are told by the writer.

My opinion is divided regarding the movie, which I considered to be not a bad summary of Elvis’ early years connected to Guralnick’s biography, but the telefilm concept kills all the essence of the story. I don’t know how to explain it what you notice it’s been film differently with not as many devices as with a proper film, and even though it counts with actors such as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Elvis), Rose McGowan (Ann-Margret), Randy Quaid (Col. Tom Parker) or Robert Patrick (Vernon Presley) you witness and overacted film with not much quality in performances and not good acting in dramatic scenes. Of course, there are certain sentences which are taken from actual sources but script cannot be considered one of the best.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers seems a bad choice for Elvis’ role to me, especially for two main reasons: he always overacts and is too much effeminate. Period.

Well, this is obviously not the most desired Elvis’ biopic by his die-hard fans but I reckon it would be  a risky enterprise which could fall into Hollywood commercial targets forgetting about who he actually was and focusing on a superficial story  similar to Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line.

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