Elvis lives (on screen)
The King had another good year on camera in these movies
This Oh-Four Comeback can’t compare with the ‘68 Comeback, but Elvis returned to the big screen in a big way during the past year, just in time for our eighth annual survey of “Elvis Allusions in the Movies.”
The King - who made 33 films during his lifetime - was seen or referenced on Memphis movie screens more than 20 times between Elvis Tribute Week 2003 and Elvis Tribute Week 2004.
The past year’s Elvis sightings didn’t hit the height of 1996-1997, when the King “appeared” in 26 new films. But the number marks a big leap over last year’s mere baker’s dozen or so of Elvis sightings.
The big news was “Bubba Ho-Tep,” which gave “Elvis” more screen time than any film since “Lilo & Stitch” in 2002 and “3000 Miles to Graceland” in 2001.
“Bubba” aside, Elvis crashed parties and press conferences. He provided inspiration for Tom Arnold and Garfield, and he was compared with Jesus and Ron Jeremy. Unlike most of the movie stars from the ’50s and ’60s, he’s still got it.
So, slip on some blue suede slippers, settle back and read along with us as we review the past year in Elvis cinema:
Screened at the Indie Memphis Film Festival last October, “Bubba Ho-Tep” was nonstop Elvis mayhem, with Bruce Campbell as an aging King (or so he claimed to be) battling an evil mummy. “Don’t make me use muh stuff on yuh, baby,” Elvis threatens, striking a karate pose as the soul-sucker approaches. His last lines, addressed to the heavens: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Elvis and the undead also mixed in the punningly titled “Day Off the Dead,” which won the prize for Best Animated Film at the Memphis International Film Festival in March. This digitally animated short about what the deceased do on their day off was populated by skeletons designed to resemble Mexican “Day of the Dead” figurines, including a dancing Elvis skeleton in pompadour and jumpsuit whose gyrations cause a bony female to faint, not far from the corner of Blue Suede and Shoes streets.
In “Soul Plane,” Tom Arnold plays the hapless head of the only white family flying on the African-American-owned NWA Airlines. The character’s name apparently is intended to signify the ultimate in honkiness: Elvis Hunkee.
In one scene, a burly bouncer denies Hunkee access to the plane’s party room because Hunkee’s name isn’t on the guest list. “Maybe it’s under ‘The King,”’ Elvis says, “because my friends, they call me ‘The King.’ It’s my nickname.” Says the bouncer: “I ain’t your friend, and you ain’t no king, (expletive deleted).”
In “Screen Door Jesus,” also shown during the Memphis International Film Festival, a guy explains to his friend that the actual Jesus of Bible times was not like the glowing, white-robed hero believers imagine now. “You see, it’s like with Elvis,” he says. “Elvis wasn’t really Elvis. I mean, he was Elvis, but that whole thing kinda come along a little later, if you know what I’m talking about, thank yuh very much.”
“Kill Bill - Vol. 2″ namedrops Rufus Thomas, the Bar-Kays and other Memphis musicians as a Texas piano player (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to figure out what to play at the wedding of The Bride (Uma Thurman). “Y’all got a song?” he asks the couple. “How about ‘Love Me Tender’? I can play that.” Responds the groom: ” ‘Love Me Tender.’ That’d be great.” (In “Vol. 1,” Uma swipes some Elvis sunglasses from a man whose head she crushes with a hospital door.)
“Love Me Tender” reappears in “House of the Dead,” in which the always loony Clint Howard - gnomish brother of Ron - plays a hook-handed first mate with a habit of whistling the tender love song. When we hear the whistled tune later in the film, we know that Clint has returned, but this time as a flesh-eating zombie.
In the bizarre Bob Dylan movie “Masked and Anonymous,” beleaguered impresario John Goodman promises to stage a concert for a Big Brother-like government network that will be “Woodstock, Altamont, the Beatles at Shea, Live Aid, and Elvis Comeback Special all rolled into one.” Later, promoter Jessica Lange reports that the “executives” in charge of the concert insist that “Jailhouse Rock” be sung because the lyrics “are something about a party that the warden’s gonna throw. They see this as an egalitarian thing.”
“Jersey Girl” stars Ben Affleck as a music publicist who can’t understand the excitement generated by his latest client, “Fresh Prince” Will Smith (not yet a superstar, in the 1990s setting of the early part of the film). “Apparently, the client’s the most beloved American musician since Elvis Presley,” he grouses, shortly before a press conference at a Hard Rock Café, held in front of a large painting of Elvis in his famous gold suit.
In “Garfield: The Movie,” the famous fat cat (voiced by Bill Murray) poses in front of a mirror and says “Thank yuh - thank yuh very much, ladies and gentlemen,” while fluffing the fur on his head into an Elvis pompadour and singing and dancing.
In “Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy” (screened at the defunct comedy club, Stop 345), an enthusiastic fan of the X-rated performer known as “the Hedgehog” enthuses: “There’s Elvis and then there’s Ron, basically. It’s simple as that.”
Speaking of porn, a fat Elvis impersonator is seen hanging out with blue movie stars at an adult film convention in Las Vegas during “The Girl Next Door.”
A kid dressed in an Elvis jumpsuit and a pompadour-with-sideburns wig is seen at a New York Catholic school Halloween party in “In America.”
In “A Cinderella Story,” an unconvincing Elvis is glimpsed at a costume ball.
Even metalheads love Elvis: In “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” an Elvis poster is seen on the wall of the rehearsal space being used by the band Echobrain, featuring former Metallica bass player Jason Newsted. Later, Metallica members attend an Echobrain club gig, but when they go backstage after the show to greet their former bandmate, Newsted already is gone. Says Metallica producer Bob Rock: “Elvis has left the building.”
“Speeder Kills,” an extremely well-made faux rock documentary shown during the Indie Memphis Film Festival, focuses on a San Antonio punk band whose lead vocalist names “Elvis Aron Presley” as her favorite singer.
Icon salutes icon when Bugs Bunny sings “Viva Las Vegas” while he and Jenna Elfman drive through the desert toward the gambling capital in “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”
Elvis’s 1969 smash “Suspicious Minds” plays over animated images of cupids and Valentine’s hearts during the opening credits of “Intolerable Cruelty,” in which George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones play divorce lawyers.
During a particularly antic moment in “New York Minute,” the Paul Okenfold dance remix of “Rubberneckin’ ” is heard as the Olsen Twins - one in a bathrobe, one in a towel - race through Times Square.
In Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” “All Shook Up” is heard when paratrooper Ewan McGregor drops into Korea.
You’d expect at least one overt Elvis reference in “School of Rock,” but instead fans must content themselves with a quick glimpse of the cover of Elvis’s first album, released in 1956 by RCA, while Jack Black searches for a Stevie Nicks song in a CD jukebox.
Homage or coincidence? Denis Leary, playing a sleazy jazz musician hipster, wears Elvis-style aviator glasses, sideburns and vaguely Presleyesque hair in ” The Secret Lives of Dentists.”
Similarly, a man who may be an off-duty Elvis impersonator or simply a big guy who likes the look of the 1970s Elvis sits next to Denzel Washington in the library in “The Manchurian Candidate.”
And, a couple of releases of the past year that didn’t make it to Memphis:
“Buffalo Soldiers” was screened for critics here, but it never actually got booked in Memphis. In this “M*A*S*H”-like military satire set on a U.S. Army base in Germany, Joaquin Phoenix shoots off the head of an Elvis statue.
Jim Jarmusch’s multipart “Coffee and Cigarettes” — due on DVD Sept. 21 from MGM Home Entertainment - includes a chapter shot in Memphis while Jarmusch was here making “Mystery Train” (1989). In this segment, titled “Twins,” Cinqué Lee and Joie Lee (Spike’s brother and sister) are stuck in a Memphis diner (”What are we doing in Memphis, anyway?” moans Cinqué), where a bumpkin waiter (Steve Buscemi), observing that the Lees look like twins, spins his “Bubba Ho-Tep”-esque conspiracy theories about what really happened to Elvis’s twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. Instead of dying at birth, it was Jesse “who started to go to Vegas and wear them big collars and the white jumpsuits and the capes - Elvis wouldn’t do that,” the waiter says. “And it was his brother who got really fat…” Joie is no Elvis fan. “You ever heard of Otis Blackwell? You ever heard of Junior Parker? Elvis robbed their music, man…” Buscemi says Elvis’s evil twin probably was responsible for that, too.
- John Beifuss: 529-2394
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