Score: 2 stars ** out of 4 stars ****
An archetype symbol of America and Americana since his first TV appearance in the 1950s, the popularity and mystique surrounding Elvis Presley — from his meteoric rise through a slow-burn decline — has yet to peak. With the possible exception of his once post-mortem son-in-law Michael Jackson, Elvis is still the nation’s top earning dead celebrity and a seemingly bottomless wellspring for creative offshoots.
For filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, Elvis is a toxic metaphor for all that is wrong with the United States, real or imagined. If you’ve never heard of Jarecki, don’t feel uninformed. Even among many cinephiles, Jarecki barely registers. The six films which Jarecki either directed or co-directed have brought in a verified total of less than $2.5 million at the box office. He doesn’t make movies for money (which is semi-admirable), he makes them to impress his like-minded liberal cohorts and for the purpose of garnering awards from low-visibility film festivals.
One thing Jarecki always seems to get right is the visuals and composition. His documentaries are impeccably framed and shot and bring with them the type of high production values seen in many feature films. “The King” (originally titled “Promised Land”) is equally divided with stock and original footage and Jarecki, along with his four editors, have whipped up something that, if not sensible, looks great. He’s quite adept at making his blathering political and social observations more palpable with the cinematic equivalent of fake fish lures. If it looks great, you’ll be able to overlook and dismiss the total lack of substantive content.
Jarecki’s vehicle for “The King” is literally a vehicle: Elvis’ infamous 1963 silver Phantom model V Rolls Royce. For the duration, Jarecki places musicians and actors in the car with highly mixed results. Beloved alt-country icon Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash’s daughter Roseanne appear alternately trapped and uncomfortable. Singer/songwriter John Hiatt is brought to tears merely entering the car and hypothesizing “the prison” effect it inflicted on Elvis. Emi Sunshine & the Rain — a gritty and soul-drenched three piece with a pre-teen female lead singer recalling Big Mama Thornton fare the best yet seem unfazed by the history the of car. For more clever and interesting take on the car, watch the video “Elvis’s Rolls Royce” by Was (Not Was) and Leonard Cohen from 1990.
Shot during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, a portion featuring future “SNL” Donald Trump imitator Alec Baldwin is both gut-busting hilarious and wildly inaccurate. Darting in and out of the film for the duration is Ethan Hawke, who is given an extended role as the commentator on Elvis’ embryonic phase taking place at Sam Phillips’ iconic Sun Records studios in Memphis and later with his (deserved) demonizing of Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker. Two other Deep State actors — a bemused Ashton Kutcher and the anti-American Canadian Mike Myers — add little to the running narrative.
Perhaps making the greatest impact of the entertainment folk but not in a good way are rappers Carlton Douglas Ridenhour (a.k.a. “Chuck D.”), formerly of Public Enemy and the Peruvian-born Felipe Andres Coronel (a.k.a. “Immortal Technique”) who rail against Elvis for his musical “cultural appropriation” — a relatively recent term coined by the Far Left fringe.
Jarecki parallels the history of America with the three phases of Elvis’ career: the pre-war Elvis (when things were great), the movie years when he released mostly mediocre music and largely mindless films (the sell-out phase) and the “fat” Elvis/Vegas final years (the cash-grab decline) all while breaking the cardinal rule of documentarians: leave your own opinion and personal feelings out of it.
In a manner not unlike that of blowhard Michael Moore, Jarecki makes no effort to hide his disdain for those not sharing his leftist ideals or his bile-riddled hatred of President Donald Trump. His job is to enlighten, inform, and present facts hopefully in an entertaining manner and he fails on all counts. We can watch all the Right-bashing we want for free on any number of TV channels; we don’t have to pay good movie for the privilege of entering a theater and having our intelligence insulted.
“The King” opens today in New York at the Landmark at 57 West and the IFC Center and will open in other select cities throughout July.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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