Elvis How historically accurate is the Baz Luhrmann biopic?

Elvis: How historically accurate is the Elvis Presley biopic? (Warner Bros./Getty)

Coming to IMAX and cinemas across the UK on June 24, new biopic Elvis tells the story of Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

Every biopic walks the same tightrope, balancing fact with artistic license. But when it comes to a musical icon, with millions of devoted fans around the world, how do you keep them all happy?

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Elvis the director, Baz Luhrmann, sees his latest extravaganza as “not really a biopic. It’s really for me about America in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s,” he explained in Cannes.

“If you want to talk about America in the 50s, 60s and 70s, at the center of the culture, for the good, the bad and the ugly, it was Elvis.”

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis.  (Warner Bros.)

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. (Warner Bros.)

However, he aimed for historical accuracy in the film while also giving it his distinctive touch and style. “I would say it’s my kind of movie. But it’s more grounded and I think, right off the bat, more accessible to the public.”

The film brings together more than 20 years of the rock ‘n’ roll legend’s life in 2 hours and 39 minutes, from his rise to stardom, his military service and marriage to the Las Vegas years and its decline.

But how fair is it when it comes to painting an accurate picture?

IT IS Elvis historically accurate? An expert’s view

When the film’s first trailer arrived, Elvis expert Billy Stallings Spa Guy posted a video analyzing its historical accuracy.

A recognized expert on The King – he runs the Tigerman Karate Dogo and Museum in Memphis, where Elvis practiced martial arts – he begins his commentary with “If you are an Elvis purist, this movie – like every other movie – will let you him crazy because there will be things in him that will not be needed”.

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In the trailer, he highlights the Ferris wheel scene, when Elvis and Parker argue about a partnership, saying it never happened.

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis.  (Warner Bros.)

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. (Warner Bros.)

He also claims that the moment when Elvis looks nervous before performing actually happened on an entirely different occasion, when he was about to record his first single.

And Captain Marvel Jr. used by young Elvis is – he believes – ‘artistic license’, which is how Parker describes it in the film.

There are others, but he also confirms “the way they portray Elvis with the girls falling on him and the huge crowd and them running after him, that’s all accurate.”

For him, the film in general is ‘very beautiful’, but he doesn’t see it as being for “us Elvis purists. Who this is for, it’s for younger generations who don’t know who Elvis is.

“That will make you iconic in their eyes.”

What Priscilla and Lisa Marie said about Elvis?

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 21: (LR) Harper Vivienne Ann Lockwood, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Riley Keough and Finley Aaron Love Lockwood attend the Handprint Ceremony honoring three generations of Presley at the TCL Chinese Theater on June 21, 2022 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

(LR) Harper Vivienne Ann Lockwood, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Riley Keough and Finley Aaron Love Lockwood. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Ex-wife Priscilla Presley and their daughter Lisa Marie were both resounding in their praise of the film, especially Austin Butler’s lead performance.

After seeing him in April, Priscilla posted her reaction on Facebook. “This story is about Elvis and Colonel Parker’s relationship.

“It’s a brilliantly and creatively told true story that only Baz, in his unique artistic way, could have delivered. Austin Butler, who played Elvis, is superb.

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis.  (Warner Bros.)

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. (Warner Bros.)

“Midway through the movie, Jerry[Elvis’soldfriendtalentmanagerJerrySchilling)andwelookedateachotherandsaidWOW!Iwonder”[Elvis’soldfriendtalentmanagerJerrySchilling)andIlookedateachotherandsaidWOW!!Bravotohim…heknewhehadbigshoestofillHewasextremelynervousplayingthispartIcanonlyimagine”[velhoamigodeElvisgerentedetalentosJerrySchilling)eeuolhamosumparaooutroedissemosUAU!Euimagino”[Elvis’soldfriendtalentmanagerJerrySchilling)andIlookedateachotherandsaidWOW!!Bravotohim…heknewhehadbigshoestofillHewasextremelynervousplayingthispartIcanonlyimagine”

On Instagram, Lisa Marie described the film as “absolutely exquisite. Austin Butler beautifully channeled and embodied my father’s heart and soul. In my humble opinion, his performance is unprecedented and FINALLY done with precision and respect.”

Elvis wanted to be an actor?

Elvis Presley and Debra Paget in the art of the movie 'Love Me Tender', 1956. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Elvis Presley and Debra Paget in Film Art Love me with affection1956. (20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Yup. His first screen test was in 1956, the year he began with his first number-one single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. In mid-November, he made his screen debut in Love me with affection and went on to make a total of 31 films.

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He talks about his acting dreams in the movie and some lines from his Life magazine interview – “Look at Frank Sinatra. Until he added acting to the singing, he found himself sliding downhill” – are used in the film.

Elvis Presley Changing Habit (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Elvis Presley in Change of habit. (Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

But unfortunately, as we see, his films fell into disuse, the audience declined and his last, Change of habitwas released in November 1969, just thirteen years after its debut.

There is also a discussion of Presley starring in the 1976 remake of a star is born. He was up for the role for a while, but his health problems ended his comeback as an actor.

Did Elvis Join the Army?

(Original caption) Friedberg, Germany: With a serious expression, singer Elvis Presley points to his three stripes after he was promoted to acting sergeant here on January 20th.  He has been promoted from the rank of Specialist Fourth Class and the advancement does not bring a salary increase.

Elvis Presley after he was promoted to Acting Sergeant. (Getty)

Yes, and his star status meant great publicity in December 1957 when he was drafted. The film only briefly touches on his initial military service, focusing on his mother’s death in the summer of the following year, but remains on his time in West Germany afterwards.

While in uniform, he continued to receive sacks of worship mail and the film shows him pursued by legions of fans. He met Priscilla Beaulieu, daughter of a United States Air Force captain, during this post.

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis.  (Warner Bros.)

Baz Luhrmann with Austin Butler on the set of Elvis. (Warner Bros.)

When he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1960, Elvis attained the rank of sergeant and, after a long courtship, he and Priscilla were married in 1967.

Was Colonel Tom Parker really a colonel?

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 1: (EXIT AUSTRALIA) USA Photo of Colonel Tom PARKER and Elvis PRESLEY, with businessman Colonel Tom Parker - posing, c.1956/1967 (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

Colonel Tom Parker with Elvis Presley c.1956/1967. (GAB/Redferns file)

Not. And, as the film reveals, Parker’s past was shrouded in mystery and deception. Born Andrea Cornelis van Kuijk in the Netherlands in 1909, he was an illegal immigrant to the US.

Smithsonian Magazine mentions that he may have fled there after committing murder. He joined the army but was never a colonel and, after leaving, worked at carnivals before branching out into talent management. Despite what is shown in the film, his origins were not revealed until the 1980s.

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis.  (Warner Bros.)

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. (Warner Bros.)

He was, as the film shows, behind Presley’s rise to fame, but, as we also see, he struck financial deals that were worth more to him than to his client.

During a dramatic confrontation, Elvis refers to him taking 50% of his earnings and this is generally considered to be true.

So how accurate is Elvis?

(Original caption) 8/2/1979-Hollywood, CA- Television movie scene

Pat Hingle as Colonel Tom Parker listening to Elvis (Kurt Russell) recordings early in his career. (Getty)

Although it is his first biopic, Luhrmann is not the first to tackle the King’s life on screen. So far, John Carpenter’s 1979 Elviswith Kurt Russell in the title role, was most notable.

Presley’s story is familiar, but this is the biggest, boldest version yet and it’s one with attention to detail that should please most fans.

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis.  (Warner Bros.)

Austin Butler and Tom Hanks star in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. (Warner Bros.)

Of course, there’s Luhrmann who takes some creative liberties, but overall the film is straightforward when it comes to the main facts of the story. It should satisfy even the most suspicious minds.

Elvis opens in theaters on June 24. Watch a clip below.

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