Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ looks like cashing in on the non-binary buzz

The trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s long-awaited Elvis movie has dropped and I’ve got to say, actor Austin Butler looks nothing like the King of Rock’n’Roll.

In typical Luhrmann (exaggerated) style, the trailer depicts hyper-saturated scenes filled with over-choreographed dancing, flamboyant costuming (did Elvis really wear that much pink?), awkward hip shaking (that famous hip sway ought to be the easiest dance move to mimic, but Butler looks like he’s on the verge of literally shitting his pants), and way too many excited extras that get in the way of an already overloaded story.

Throughout the trailer, Butler looks less like a rock’n’roll ladies’ man and more like, well, a lady. It’s as though you’re watching a pretty girl trying to look like k.d. lang trying to cover an Elvis song in a heavily jump-cut music video.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all for gender-bending and the new non-binary ethos; in fact, Cream has pushed to blur the boundaries of gender and sexuality since the zine’s inception in the late 1990s. But when the aesthetic of a lead character is so so wrong, it detracts viewers’ concentration from a film’s narrative. Even simple narratives like those Luhrmann likes to shoot, albeit through a Vaselined lens.

For the record, Elvis wore a little black eyeliner, but not that much. And he certainly wasn’t that gaunt, even in his early years. Also, Elvis’ eyes – possibly his most admired feature – were a steely piercing blue but Butler’s look a little dull, if not weary.

Now, if you think I’m focusing on the superficial a little too much, remember it is the work of Baz Luhrmann we’re reviewing here. 

On that note, out of the millions of Elvis impersonators around the world who most likely auditioned for this role – many of these being out-of-work actors who could easily pull  it off – why in the hell did Luhrmann pick fey and scrawny Butler to fill Elvis’ blue suede shoes?

I appreciate the director likes to focus on the superfice – as seen in the velvet curtains of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge, and the social nihilists in The Great Gatsby – but if you’re going to make films about beautiful things, at least get the main aesthetics half right.

Mind you, the remix treatment of Elvis’ music is pretty good – we can always rely on Luhrmann to rope in clever music producers. But I’m afraid all the covering, remixing and mashing of some of music history’s most famous songs won’t fix the big, bright mess this film looks like being.

I guess I’ll have to wait to see the full big picture when Elvis hits cinemas on June 24.

Antonino Tati



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