Not long after Elvis Presley died of a drug overdose in August 1977, the blunt-spoken John Lennon told a reporter that Presley “died in 1958, when he went into the Army.” There were, in fact, two Elvis Presleys, but the better of the two was elbowed and suffocated early on — career pressures, tumbling tides, you-tell-me-what-else.
The one that mattered was Elvis #1 — a rip-roaring cultural force of the mid ’50s, a slender and sideburned Memphis native who exuded a pulsing sexual energy and totally ruled the rock ‘n’ roll roost from early ’56 to March of ’58 (when he began his two-year military hitch) and who made five half-decent films — Love Me Tender, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and Flaming Star.
Elvis #2 was an in-and-outer and mostly a sell-out, the star of a series of appalling, ridiculous Hollywood films, a yokel who didn’t like the counterculture and the antiwar left, and thereafter became a flamboyant conservative who paid President Nixon an obsequious visit in December ’70, and then a flashy, entourage-flanked Las Vegas headliner, and finally a bloated, grotesque, drug-taking, peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich-consuming, on-the-verge-of-death wreck of his former self.
The apparent aim of this three-hour, two-part HBO movie, directed by Thom Zimny and debuting on 4.14, is to portray Presley as a serious, aspirational, hard-working artist during his slow-decline period (’58 to ’77). Maybe there’s more to this era than is commonly known, but…okay, I’ll watch it and see what goes.