CinemaCon is happening in Vegas this week. This is when movie studios present exclusive previews of upcoming releases to theatre owners and these days it’s become like a rally for the survival of cinemas. Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis was one of the most warmly received films that was showcased yesterday and both Baz and Austin Butler, in the title role, were there to hype up their projects.
Like I said when the trailer came out a couple of months ago, I was already all in on this because, even though it’s complicated, I can’t shake my thing for Elvis Presley. But Elvis getting the Baz Luhrmann treatment? Think Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge… he’s the perfect director for Elvis’s tacky and excess, at least visually. As for the story?
Well, Baz said at CinemaCon that his film “isn’t really a biopic” but “about America in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s” as told through Elvis’s humble beginnings and his celebrity rise, fall, rise again, and final plummet.
But also…this is an Elvis for the now times. Per Baz:
"You will hear the classics, you will see the story of Elvis, but we’ve also translated that for a younger generation."
Apparently during one of the montages, there’s a new Doja Cat song that samples “Hound Dog”. So, basically, this is Elvis for TikTok. Elvis for Gen Z. And why not, I guess? You’ve heard about the “coastal grandma” trend that’s taken over TikTok? The kids are digging into the archives right now. Baz is hoping they’ll fall in love with Elvis the way their predecessors did 60 years ago.
And it doesn’t hurt that Austin Butler is playing him. Austin will be familiar with Gen Z from Disney Channel and Nickelodeon but not too familiar given that while he certainly isn’t new to the business, he’s also not super famous. At least not yet. Which means that he’s not fighting a public image, like through a certain character or a role, that the younger audience already has of him. His performance as Elvis, then, will define his cultural imprint. And the way Baz has depicted him as Elvis… well… he’s the ultimate sex symbol. TikTok will be thirsting, guaranteed.
But Austin also has to work for the generations that came before TikTok – millennials, Gen X, and older. Those who actually do know more about Elvis, who have seen enough Elvis in their pop culture education and can make the comparison. From the perspective of this lifelong Elvis student…
I’m not just talking about the footage from the movie, I’m talking about the way Austin is carrying himself in “real life” here at CinemaCon. Look at him in this shot:
It’s the hand. The rings, yes, but just the position of the hand. Elvis used to hold his hands like this too – it’s body language, it’s gait, it’s the slouch in the way he’s sitting… Austin Butler is checking all my Elvis boxes. I can’t f-cking wait to see the reaction out of Cannes for this movie, another thing that makes this movie’s rollout so well-suited to its subject. Of course you want to premiere a movie about the most over-the-top music icon at the most over-the-top film festival before it opens wide in June. Will it be the summer of Elvis Presley?