What is the relationship between the career of Elvis Presley and the 40C heat we hit recently?
What? Is that a serious question, or some kind of ridiculous riddle that should not be posed? How could you compare a pop star to a few days of heat never experienced in our climes before?
It reminds me of the delicious madness that Monty Python posed in the 1970s when they asked if Magna Carta was the charter that began the slow development of parliamentary democracy, or was it a piece of chewing gum on a bed in Dorset?
On the night of the Great Heat I went to a chilly cinema to see the new Elvis Presley biopic Elvis. It jumped about a bit and even I, who knows Elvis’s musical and family evolution pretty well, occasionally got lost. But overall it did a pretty good job of showing his evolution from poor Mississippi-born boy to international music and movie star. The beguiling beauty of the man, his ability to bring rhythm and sensuality into music through his keen observations of the black music and fashion culture he was surrounded by; all of this was captured. And then, once at the apex, the steady decline into drug use to keep him awake and able to take the punishing regime his manager drove him into.
Colonel Parker, no more a colonel than Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, was relentless both in driving Elvis’s career towards greater wealth and in his profligate gambling away of the proceeds. A dishonesty a mile wide drives the perfectly enunciated Colonel – Tom Hanks – towards ever greater exploitation of his charge. Austin Butler is at times so Elvis-like that it feels almost like a documentary. Only the odd bits of contemporary film footage allow you to see the difference between the real and the reimagined. The brashness of the tragedy of Elvis Presley is caught well by the Australian director Baz Luhrmann.
Yes, Elvis’s cruel life was a tragedy waiting to be played out. Crushed by money and fame, unable to fathom his way because of his poor nurturing and the poverty his parents came through. Dead at 42, rudderless and riddled with pharmacological poisons, it was a Shakespearean act to watch. The rise and fall of a hero who was finally killed by the greed of others. But the new film does not bathe you only in pathos and pain, for it is dazzling in a way that many tragedies are not.