The King: Elvis Presley’s Life as An American Dream

Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, in Eugene Jarecki’s THE KING. Photo by Taylor Krauss. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Writer-director Eugene Jarecki uses journey of Elvis Presley in The King as a way of showing us the rise and fall of the American Dream.

It’s an interesting premise.  The King isn’t an outright documentary of Elvis Presley.  There are clips of Elvis as the singer was making his rise.  We get a number of celebrities discussing Elvis while riding in his car.  The film traces us through some of Presley’s locations.  At the center of the film is Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce.  For a car as old as it is, I’m honestly surprised that it is in working condition some 50 years later.

It’s a no-brainer decision to film in Memphis and Las Vegas.  Jarecki also takes the film to New York and elsewhere.  All the while, people sit in the back of the car to discuss Elvis Presley.  After all, the musician was the personification of the American dream, right?  He was this poor boy from Tupelo, Miss.  He sets out to record a song for his mom.  The next thing you now, Presley starts his climb to the top of the world.

There’s a fascinating debate to be made about Elvis Presley and cultural appropriation.  Here you have this white singer from Tupelo, Miss. who made his way to Memphis, Tenn. He would be discovered by Sam Phillips and signed to a deal with Sun Records.  Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller were the two Jewish songwriters behind a number of hit songs.  One of those was “Hound Dog,” originally written fro Big Mama Thornton.  Yet she couldn’t make it a hit song in the same way as Presley.  They offered the tune to Presley and the rest is history.  There were a number of people of color making their rise in the early days of rock and roll.  While many would become famous, none had the capability of selling records like Elvis.

Framing the rise and fall of Elvis as a comparison to the American Dream is a fascinating way of looking at it.  Is the American Dream going to overdose in the same way?  Salaries have stayed stagnant even as inflation rises for yet another consecutive year.  If economists were brought on board in interviews, the argument would be stronger.  Yeah, there’s journalists like Dan Rather and David Simon but those two alone aren’t strong enough to make a case for the film’s argument.

“Every chance he prioritized money, and where did it put him?” Ethan Hawke comments.  “Dead and fat on the toilet at 42.”

Saturday Night Live alumnus Mike Myers makes an appearance that serves only one purpose in the film.  Myers refers to it: as “The Canadian immigrant point of view.”

A conversation can be made about where America is going as a country.  While there’s a case to be made for the metaphorical argument behind The King, the film lives and dies on the discussion about Elvis Presley.

DIRECTOR:  Eugene Jarecki
FEATURING:  Alec Baldwin, James Carville, Rosanne Cash, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, John Hiatt, Van Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Mike Myers, Dan Rather, David Simon

Following the world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Oscilloscope Laboratories opened The King in theaters on June 22, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

One thought on “The King: Elvis Presley’s Life as An American Dream

  1. Fantastic review. The director forgot that the United States WANTED to take over the world. Elvis did not. In fact, probably one of the few people who really understood Elvis Presley was Stephen Barnard. In his book “Popular Music, Volume I: Folk or Popular?”, a publication director Jarecky should have read before trying to make any metaphor about Presley, he describes him as follows. And I quote ‘He never understood the artistic claims that were made for him, probably thought very little of the nature of his appeal or his music; yet, as author Greil Marcus points out in ‘Mystery Train’, it is possible to see (all that) as a positive factor; Presley viewed his music as for the body, not the mind, so he recorded and performed accordingly; and, if much of his music sounds superficial, it was thanks to his undoubted vocal talent and extraordinary charisma that, at least, it was all gloriously superficial and celebratory; he knew better than to take it seriously and, in doing so, he become the consummate music figure, one that defines its spirit by delighting in its very limitations. Unquote Too bad the documentary leaves out the non surprising fact that it was not just that Presley never took himself that seriously, but that the title of the documentary ( and this is just one example) as witnessed in 1974 by some 17,000 concert goers at the University of Notre Dame Athletic Center, was what he hated the most. So there is simply no metaphor to be found. It takes two to tango….

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