I saw Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla last night, and it has a certain depressive, despairing, slow-paced, fade-to-black quality that some viewers might find…well, respectable. I understand why certain critics have approved. It’s austere. And anti-male, of course. Coppola has been drawing water from this well over and over (i.e., a beautiful, young, sensitive princess is trapped in an authoritarian, male-dominated world) — here she’s added a #MeToo “expose the bastards!” ingredient.
I didn’t hate it but Priscilla sure moves like a turtle, and the cinematography is too dimly lighted and funereal even. (That or the foot-lambert levels are way below SMPTE standards at the Westport AMC plex where I saw it.) And some of the whispered, all-but-inaudible dialogue is all but impossible. Subtitles!
All I know is that the longer the film went on, the more my pulse dropped.
As I was exiting the theatre I overheard a youngish, palefaced brunette tell her mom (same characteristics) that she “loved it.” As she stood in the lobby I told her I had also just seen Priscilla, and that I was wondering (without tipping my own hand) what in particular she had loved. “It’s just that it tells the story from her viewpoint!” she exclaimed. “The others (Elvis films, I assumed she meant) have all told it from his.”
You’re right, I said — it certainly has Priscilla’s back.
If you’ve read “Elvis and Me“, Priscilla Presley‘s 1987 tell-all, or are familiar with the main story points (Elvis’s refusal to have intercourse before marriage, his pattern of infidelity including affairs with Ann-Margret, Nancy Sinatra and many others, the drug use, his dictatorial nature and random violence, Priscilla’s affair with a martial-arts instructor named Mike Stone, Elvis’s raping Priscilla when he learned of the affair), it’s important to understand that Coppola’s film sidesteps or underplays this material and in some cases ignores it entirely. She was determined not to make a “this happened and then that happened” biopic. She wanted to suggest and hint but not be especially blunt about anything.
The result, frankly, is boredom, albeit a respectable form of it — the kind that many critics have approved of.