Tagged: Elvis (2022)

Elvis Presley’s White Suit in the ’68 Comeback Special: Reel vs. Real

Elvis Presley’s iconic “If I Can Dream” performance in his 1968 comeback special (left) was recreated on screen by Austin Butler in the 2022 biopic Elvis (right).

Vitals

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, rock star on the eve of a comeback

Burbank, California, June 1968

Film: Elvis
Release Date: June 23, 2022
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Tailor: Gloria Bava
Original Concept: Bill Belew

Background

Fifty-five years ago tonight, the King signaled his return to glory in the music world when NBC aired Singer Presents… Elvis, now also known as the ’68 Comeback Special.

Despite his start in music, Elvis Presley’s career through much of the ’60s was anchored in movies. There were a few winners among the mix, but the singer’s famously shrewd manager Colonel Tom Parker engineered them closer to formulaic, low-budget comedies that would yield higher profits—particularly when they could be linked to a soundtrack album, an opportunity less possible or profitable with the more dramatic (and often higher-quality) roles that Elvis preferred.

By late 1967, Elvis had grown disenchanted with the programmatic films like Clambake, Double Trouble, and Stay Away, Joe that had led him far from the recording and touring that cemented his colossal popularity in the ’50s. At the same time, Colonel Tom approached NBC with a million-dollar deal to feature Elvis in what would be a holiday special, designed to conclude with the King of Rock and Roll crooning Christmas carols.

Luckily for Elvis, producer Bob Finkel convinced his cohorts and presenting sponsor Singer Corporation to green-light a different concept that focused exclusively on Elvis—intended to connect him with younger audiences and refresh the cultural mindset of Elvis as a groundbreaking rock star and not the tired star of corny comedies. Despite expected resistance from Colonel Tom, Elvis was fully on board with Finkel and director Steve Binder’s renewed vision for the special, which was rehearsed, recorded, and produced through June 1968.

It was during this tumultuous month that Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles, just two months after Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis. The King assassination particularly troubled Elvis, who “definitely wanted to say something more with his music than a song like ‘Hound Dog’ could express,” as Peter Guralnick wrote in Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. “Binder wanted a musical statement based on [Elvis’] conversations about the assassinations and the discord gripping the country,” wrote Donald Liebenson for Vanity Fair on the 50th anniversary of the special. Binder charged songwriter Walter Earl Brown Jr. to craft “the greatest song you’ve ever written,” which Brown did—overnight.

The next day, Brown played “If I Can Dream” for the core members of the production. After Elvis asked Brown to play it at least six times, he simply stated “We’re doing it,” and the special’s finale was determined. Of course, Finkel knew that “the Colonel will blow his stack. It’s got to be a Christmas song,” and even after Colonel Tom’s initial protest that it “ain’t Elvis’ kind of song,” taste prevailed and “If I Can Dream” became the closing number of Singer Presents… Elvis. Continue reading

Austin Butler as Elvis: Black Suit for a 4th of July Concert

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

Vitals

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, country rock guitarist and singer

Memphis, Tennessee, July 4, 1956

Film: Elvis
Release Date: June 23, 2022
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Tailor: Gloria Bava

Background

It doesn’t get much more American than Elvis.

Austin Butler went all out in his performance as the King of Rock and Roll in Baz Lurhmann’s characteristically flamboyant biopic, released last summer. Butler’s performance received particular praise—including endorsements from the Presley family—and Elvis would be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Costume Design.

Elvis follows Presley’s brief life from boyhood through the various levels of stardom, particularly through the lens of his complicated relationship with his domineering manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). In the early years of his fame, Presley’s hip-swinging celebration of Black music is shown to so enrage the bigoted establishment that he’s being threatened with legal trouble.

The film presents his July 4, 1956 concert in Memphis as an opportunity for Presley to maintain the cleaned-up “New Elvis” image he had introduced three days early while performing “Hound Dog” on The Steve Allen Show three days earlier, stuffed into a white tie and tails as he crooned to an actual basset hound. Instead, having rediscovered the meaning behind his music among the blues joints on Beale Street, Elvis delivers a sweltering performance of “Trouble”—and lands himself right in it, arrested by the Memphis vice squad when he soundly disobeys being told to not “so much as wiggle a finger.” To avoid prosecution, Colonel Tom devises a plan for Elvis to swap out his blue suede shoes for spit-shined service derbies: “It’s either the Army or jail.”

Except that isn’t quite what really happened. Continue reading

Austin Butler as Elvis: Pink-and-Black Rockabilly Suit

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis (2022)

Vitals

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, country rock guitarist and singer

Shreveport, Louisiana, January 1955

Film: Elvis
Release Date: June 23, 2022
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Tailor: Gloria Bava

Background

Elvis Presley was born 88 years ago today on January 8, 1935. Little introduction is needed for the King of Rock and Roll, who remains one of the most significant cultural figures of the last century even nearly 50 years after this death. Several movies have been made about Presley’s life and musical career, the most recent being the highly publicized Elvis, released last year with an astounding and immersive lead performance by Austin Butler that has been touted as a likely contender for an Academy Award. Continue reading