The night before last I caught the “Sundance cut” of Eugene Jarecki‘s The King, which is 20 minutes shorter than the version that played last May in Cannes as Promised Land. It’s much more than just an Elvis doc. I was pretty close to knocked out — touched and shaken to the depths of whatever — and I’ll eat my black Kenneth Cole desert boots if it doesn’t become a Best Feature Documentary nominee next January. It’s that good, that bell-ringy, that profound.
Oscilloscope will open it sometime in June.
The country used to be Elvis when he was sexy and slender and now it’s all fat and Donald Trumpy. Or Elvis was eaten by the spirit of Trump or something like that.
The message partly overlaps with that George Carlin rant: “This country was nice when we stole it…looked pretty good, pristine, paradise. Have you seen it lately? Have you taken a good look lately? It’s fucking embarassing. Only a nation of unenlightened half-wits could have taken this beautiful place and turned it into what it is today…a shopping mall, a big fucking shopping mall.”
13 year-old country blues singer Emi Sunshine, who takes a ride in Elvis’s silver Rolls Royce and sings some tunes in Jarecki’s doc, and Mr. Jarecki himself — Tuesday, 3.6, following screening at UTA.
The King is a sad portrait of the way this country used to be and what it no longer is, and how the American experience has turned sour and cynical and corporate, and how our collective journey of the last 60 or 65 years mirrors that of the surly sad sack known as Elvis Presley.
The metaphor of Elvis-as-America and vice versa…a young white guy who became the king of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid ’50s with a blend of jumpy black blues and rockabilly but who never marched or spoke out for civil rights, and how he began to sell out and downswirl as the ’60s began and sank into the straightjacket of Las Vegas and drug addiction by the early ’70s, and ended up dead on a bathroom floor in August ’77. And here we are right now on the bathroom floor with Trump, because our unenlightened half-wit journey is all about despair and opioids and pushing back against the multiculturals, etc.
The King ends with one of the greatest cultural-political montages I’ve seen in a long time, a portrait of America’s ruined soulscape as we listen to fat Elvis sing “Unchained Melody” from a Vegas showroom…for this sequence alone it’ll be Oscar-nominated.