Baz Luhrmann’s biopic dramatizes The King’s breakout performance at the Shreveport country music mecca.
Anybody who knows anything about Elvis Presley knows that The King made his first major impact on audiences — got them all shook up, as it were — during his historic 1954 performance at The Louisiana Hayride, the storied Shreveport showcase where country music artists such as Hank Williams, Faron Young, Kitty Wells and Jim Reeves made their debuts.
So of course director Baz Luhrmann had to include the event in Elvis, his turbo-charged film about the life and influence of The King — set to open Friday in theaters everywhere — that Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman has aptly described as “a fizzy, delirious, impishly energized, compulsively watchable 2-hour-and-39-minute fever dream -- a spangly pinwheel of a movie that converts the Elvis saga we all carry around in our heads into a lavishly staged biopic-as-pop-opera.”
But Luhrmann — whose previous credits include Australia, Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge! — freely admits that he evoked some dramatic license during this scene and others.
Luhrmann says his mission in storytelling, “whether I am taking classical material from Romeo + Juliet to The Great Gatsby, or an iconic singer like Elvis, is always to decode not what it was, but what it felt like for the audiences back in the day. For example, when Big Mama Thornton sings, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog…” it is really the story of a woman telling an unfaithful and unworthy man to ‘hit the road’ in what would have been confronting street vernacular at the time. Counterpointing the Thornton track with a rap from Doja Cat translates the lyrics and the sentiment for a contemporary, and especially a younger, audience.
“A similar example would be when Elvis performs live for the first time in the film at the Louisiana Hayride.” Austin Butler, the 30-year-old actor who plays Elvis, “sings ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ and we adhere fairly accurately to the style of the time. But to underline what it felt like for the young crowd at that time—the electrifying, punk-like intensity—we anachronistically employed a shredding guitar riff helpfully provided by Gary Clark Jr. I used this technique throughout the film, and had the privilege of engaging with guest artists from the young to the established to living legends.”
Here is a look at the scene in which Austin Butler’s Elvis Presley rocks the house at The Louisiana Hayride — and Tom Hanks’ Col. Tom Parker witnesses what he immediately recognizes at the birth of a superstar.
Photos: Warner Bros.