Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 179: The Elvis Impersonator


A couple of nights ago, the AC was blasting, the ball game was over and I still had most of a beer left, so I spun through the remote and found an old Elvis Presley movie, "Harum Scarum". Not one of his best.

But then, Elvis wasn't really known for making good movies. Maybe "King Creole"…

Still, when I was a kid, Elvis films were considered the ultimate date movie. They mostly preceded my own dating years, but my friends and I saw them as well and we all agreed that Elvis could fight pretty good, which made him okay in our eyes and worth sitting through the interminable kissing scenes.

But as his career went on, the movies seemed to get even worse. The stories were moronic and the songs were mostly forgettable. I remember wondering why somebody as rich and powerful as Elvis would allow himself to get involved in such dreck. Surely, he must have known he wasn't giving his fans their money's worth.

Later in life, I met a guy who produced several of Elvis' films. He worked for Hal Wallis for a long time and then went on to a very successful career of his own. I didn't want to ask him why all the Elvis movies were so cheesy, so I just asked what it was like working with Elvis.

He said he was a fairly down to earth guy. Polite and courteous. Came to set knowing his lines. Hit his marks. Punched a couple of guys. Sang a song. Kissed the leading lady and went home. He wasn't the kind of actor who questioned his motivation or wanted to direct. He just figured the movie people must know what they were doing, did what he was told and got on with his life.

It got me wondering if maybe Elvis was a better actor than I gave him credit for. That he just kind of embodied whatever somebody else said would make the fans happy and made that person seem as real and natural as could be.

And maybe those people telling him what to do really did understand what his fans wanted. His real fans.

During "Harum Scarum" I also found myself wondering how the American Movie Musical transitioned from lavish Busby Berkley numbers and all-singing, all-dancing casts to a string of films where just one guy did it all himself.

The way studios cover their butts and try to make sure everybody in the audience is getting something, it speaks to the power of Elvis' onscreen persona that they didn't think he needed any back-up whatsoever.

And maybe that embodiment of so much charisma is why Elvis Impersonators remain so popular today.

If you're anywhere near Collingwood, Ontario today you can take part in the largest competition for Elvis Impersonators on the planet, where in addition to young Elvis and old Elvis, you can be treated to Asian Elvis, Lady Elvis and Baby Elvis. All the Elvii you can imagine will be there for your enjoyment.

But maybe the original was a master impersonator as well…

Samples of Young Elvis and Old are offered for your consideration. Young Elvis from his first full musical "Loving You" and footage from one of his final concerts. In both, the incredible talent beneath the characters shines through.

Enjoy your Sunday.



rick mcginnis said...

A recent episode of "Trailers From Hell" featured an "appreciation" of the Streisand/Kristofferson remake of A Star Is Born, and contained the (to me) shocking news that Streisand and producer/boyfriend Jon Peters had really wanted Elvis, not Kristofferson, for the role of the washed up rock star. The TFH presenter seemed to think this would have been a total game-changer for this film, and might have made for both a better film and a sea change in Elvis' career - and possibly his life. The funny part was that Col. Tom Parker turned it down because he thought Peters, a former hairdresser, was gay, and Parker was such a homophobe that he couldn't bear the thought of him or his "boy" working with a homosexual. I'm not sure if it might have been such a major game changer, but the the idea is still plenty fascinating to ponder.

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