Following in the footsteps of ‘The King’
Backed by such heavy-hitting executive producers Steven Soderbergh, Errol Morris and Rosanne Cash, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki – no slouch himself (an Emmy, a Peabody, and two Sundance awards) – embarks on a journey to re-discover America in The King (three out of four stars), which compares and contrasts the era of Elvis Presley with today’s political and social climate.
Not only is Jarecki behind the wheel of Presley’s own 1963 Rolls-Royce, which amusingly enough breaks down periodically, as he rambles along the roads of North America, but he periodically spends time with celebrities, historians, activists, journalists, friends, and fans – among them such luminaries as Dan Rather, Ethan Hawke, David Simon, James Carville, Alec Baldwin, Emmylou Harris, Scotty Moore, Chuck D, and even Mike Myers (who bemusedly offers the “Canadian” perspective).
Of course, Elvis Presley is viewed as the quintessential personification of the American Dream – a poor boy from Mississippi come to greatness and worldwide adoration. Additionally, he also personified the American Nightmare, a tragic victim of his own vices, dying at age 42 while seated on a toilet in Graceland, his Nashville mansion, which has since become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Yet, Elvis Presley is only part of the story in The King, which has its nostalgic appeal but also a larger agenda. It doesn’t so much celebrate America The Beautiful as bitterly reflect on America The Bountiful, contemplating and meditating on the current state of the nation, in particular since Donald Trump was elected President.
Such observations may not be unwarranted, regardless of one’s opinion of the current Commander-in-Chief, but the filmmakers tend to lean a little too heavily on it, allowing it to dominate the proceedings in a preachy fashion that sometimes detracts from the film’s overall impact. The King is enjoyable and intelligent, but moderation wouldn’t have hurt.
Nevertheless, the film is extremely well-assembled (a Jarecki trademark), boasting excellent use of vintage clips, footage, and interview snippets of Presley, who almost never took a controversial political stance in his career, even in the midst of the upheaval of the 1960s. When he began his career, Presley’s rock ‘n’ roll image was controversial in itself. He evidently wasn’t about to further rock the boat once his celebrity status was cemented.
The King opens Friday at Aperture Cinema.