The new Elvis documentary, The King, will be coming out in theaters this Friday. It’s directed by acclaimed documentarian Eugene Jarecki. Esquire relays that it’s an examination of what this icon means to the American people, forty years after his passing. He may be long gone but The King and his music still resonate in the hearts of many.
In his quest to discover what Elvis means today, Jarecki takes viewers on a cross-country road trip in Elvis’ 1963 Rolls-Royce. The journey starts from Tupelo all the way to Las Vegas, tracing Elvis’s rise to fame. Along the way, he interviews random people about what Elvis meant to them; how he’s still a strong presence in music today; and how it reflects the socio-political climate in the country. It’s not all about reflection though, as fans will also delight in seeing Blues musician John Hiatt sitting in The King’s car.
The documentary veteran uses the film to depict just how deeply imprinted Elvis is in American culture. The Tupelo-born musician essentially changed the course of music for good. He may not have invented ‘the music from the South’ but he helped propel it to mainstream popularity. In fact, his legacy is still strongly felt in contemporary works. Pop star Ariana Grande’s 2017 hit song Into You includes lyrics from A Little Less Conversation. He also serves as inspiration for video games. The slot game Elvis The King Lives on Foxy Bingo immortalizes his image and music further as it makes use of the singer’s greatest songs and iconic fashion style. There’s also the classic fighting game Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix by Capcom that features a character dressed like The King. It’s no surprise then that his lasting legacy is that his life is seen as the ultimate American dream. He overcame poverty after growing up in the rural South. He discovered R&B and gospel music when he moved to Memphis. He incorporated bluegrass and country into his songs and took the entire entertainment industry by storm. Because he lived out his dream.
Jarecki’s documentary interviews personalities such as Greil Marcus, Luc Sante, and Emmylou Harris. They provide touching insights into the man away from the camera. The other interviewees are actors and musicians including Ethan Hawke, Chuck D, Mike Myers, and Alec Baldwin. What makes them crucial to the film is their introspective commentary on Elvis, the pitfalls of fame, and the current state of America. They help explain how it all ties into the metaphor of Elvis as symbol of the American Dream.
The King was first shown in its original version titled The Promised Land at Cannes last year and received positive reviews. It was retitled The King when it was released at Sundance in January this year and the US distribution rights were sold to Oscilloscope.
Jarecki’s filmography is riddled with critically successful documentaries including Why We Fight, Reagan, and The Trials of Henry Kissinger.
Jarecki had this to say about his new project: “I’ve addressed the question in previous films in different ways, but it dawned on me that there is nothing more American than the rags to riches story of Elvis Presley.”
The objective of The King is to ground this near-mythical tale of tragedy and triumph to inform and inspire fans. At the same time, it aims to live up to its title for the legend to live on.