Thursday, March 31, 2011

King Creole and Elvis Presley

Have you ever wanted to watch something, but can't help but be filled with dread about how much it's going to suck? That's pretty much what happened to me as I sat down to watch King Creole. This was a film about my hometown, which has been mistreated and misunderstood in film on a regular basis. It's also an Elvis movie. Even among his most devoted fans, there are few who praise his acting talents. My curiosity could not be denied though, and as such I had to watch what is often referred to as the best of his films.

My thoughts on Elvis have evolved drastically over the years. My parents were both a little too young to be fans. My main memory is my dad telling me that he and his friends couldn't help but giggle at "the little boy with the runny nose" line in "In the Ghetto," so that gives you an idea of how old he was when that song came out in 1969. Of course, every time I hear the song I think of that and end up giggling too. I love my goofy family.

Looking back on my youth I realize I had a lot of elitist tendencies. I used to be one of those who believed that what I liked was the best and therefore anything else was inferior. I don't know how I could watch the Beatles Anthology and come away from it looking down on Elvis, but I did. He didn't write his own songs, and basically that was enough for me to dismiss him. Never mind that he's pretty much the entire reason the Beatles starting making music, and you can hear his vocal influence in all four of their singing voices. I waggle my finger at 13 year old me in disapproval.

That was pretty much how my opinion remained until 2002. That was when the album ELV1S was released and the remix version of "A Little Less Conversation" was pretty much everywhere. I could not deny that it was a really good song and he was in fact a great singer. I should probably also mention that I always really liked "Suspicious Minds" too, but somehow didn't recognize it as an Elvis song. It sounds more like Neil Diamond's style to me.

Another thing that happened in 2002 was Lilo & Stitch. Surely I have talked about how much I love that movie before? If somehow I haven't, I'll have to save it for another post. Regardless, the Elvis song selections in that movie are pretty much perfection in terms of fitting the mood. "Devil in Disguise" is probably my favorite in terms of its use in the movie and just being a great song over all.

You would think that might be the point where I really became an Elvis fan. But the truth is, not entirely. I dropped the elitism on the issue but he basically became someone who I thought was pretty good but was not necessarily a fan of. Last year, however, Jak's friend told him he wanted them to start a 50's cover band together and he agreed. Suddenly, he had to learn all of these songs really quickly, both on guitar and most of the vocals since they were trading singing duties. So he started burning CDs of their planned setlists and we would listen to them in the car to help him get familiarized with them. I've been a casual fan of 50's music for most of my life - one of the first cassettes I purchased was a 50's compilation, though I don't think there was any Elvis on it. Anyway, with the frequency of which I was hearing this music, I started to notice something. The only ones I wasn't getting sick of were Elvis songs.

Finally, it was time to dig deeper. I downloaded a ton of his songs, largely from the 50's, and made my way through them. The songs from King Creole stuck out to me immediately thanks to all the New Orleans references. I had never actually heard of the movie before, but I liked most of the songs. Having absorbed a good amount of his music and read up on his history, I had to experience his acting, for no other reason than to see just how bad it could be.

One other thing before I get into the movie review. Netflix has a collection of all his Ed Sullivan appearances. They're interesting from a history perspective because you get to watch the entire episodes and see just what passed for variety entertainment in the mid 50's. It's also nice that you get to see all of his performance as well as the banter before and after the songs. Let me tell you something - that boy charmed me from the moment he appeared on the screen. I know why those girls were screaming now. He's so bashful and sweet, how could you not love him? I giggled and sighed like a school girl watching those clips.

As for King Creole, it looks pretty great on paper. Besides Elvis it also starts Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones (best known as Morticia Adams) and was directed by Michael Curtiz who had previously done Casablanca. The story is about a poor kid who ends up getting mixed up with the wrong people while also trying to help support his family by singing. It reminded me a lot of Blue Velvet, minus the David Lynch craziness, or kind of what I expect Rebel Without a Cause to be like. I really need to watch that one. I just found out that the original version of this movie was actually supposed to star James Dean before his untimely death, so I guess that makes a lot of sense. Our hero must choose between the good girl and the bad girl, and also the gangster or the honest businessman, all while attempting to gain the approval of his father. The plot gets needlessly complicated at points, but overall is about what you would expect from this type of film.

Elvis's acting performance pretty much saddles the average line. His line delivery felt a little rushed at points, but overall he expresses emotion well and keeps up speed with some of the more talented actors beside him. I have to admit the scene where he cries was a little too hard to swallow though. I found myself chuckling rather than sympathizing with him.

In terms of how it treated my city, I can't really complain. The book this was loosely based on was originally set in New York, and it's obvious they only made some minor changes to modify it to New Orleans. I kind of get the feeling they studied A Streetcar Named Desire to get the mood right, and they seem to have filmed at least partially in the French Quarter. The songs seem to be what tie it into the city the most, and they stay far enough on the generic side to not insult us with inaccuracies.

Overall, the main reason to watch this movie is to see Elvis perform. It's not as good as one of his live shows because you can notice the lip syncing at points, but he still brings the same energy and charm to these performances. The hip swiveling dancing that made him so famous is all right there. Of all of them, I think "Trouble" and "King Creole" are probably my favorites.

From what I hear, Jailhouse Rock is also considered one of his best films, but once again it's the dance sequences people are raving about rather than the acting. It's entirely possible that any other Elvis films I end up watching will involve me fast forwarding until I get to the songs. That's a fun reversal from what I do with most of the Marx Brothers movies. I'm also realizing that I really, really need to watch his '68 Comeback Special, and why I haven't yet is a mystery.

5 comments:

  1. Ooooh the black leather....yes you MUST watch the Comeback Special.

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  2. +JMJ+

    I've also experienced discovering some great musical acts long after their heydays. The Beatles were first; David Bowie is just the latest. While I feel a bit left out of the fun and even born in the wrong decade (quite the hyperbole for me, as I do love the 80s), I'm glad that I can really be sure that these "old" acts produced quality music, because it stood up all those years before I finally learned to love it.

    So . . . is this just the beginning of a whole series on Elvis? ;-)

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  3. I am always deeply saddened by people who aren't interested in things that happened before they were born. I recently watched something related to the Batman television show, and there were people in the comments complaining because it was before their time and they'd much rather here people discuss things that they already know about. I just can't understand that line of thinking!

    Oh, I love Bowie! Is there a particular era you like, or are you attempting to get through his whole catalog? I'm partial to the Ziggy Stardust days myself, though of course the Labyrinth soundtrack also holds a special place in my heart. I love guys like Bowie and Bob Dylan for their willingness to try new styles and experiment, even if it means I won't like all of it.

    As far as Elvis is concerned, I'm not sure how much of a series it will end up being. I plan to watch the comeback special next week, and I'll check out some of the other films eventually. I don't want to have to keep writing "the movie kind of sucked but the performances were great" over and over again, so I'll have to see if there's anything worth talking about as I go through them. :)

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  4. +JMJ+

    As you guessed, I'm still trying to get through Bowie's whole ouvre and the periods aren't clear cut to me yet. But I find that I love the stuff from the 70s more than the stuff from the 80s. Ironically (at least in the context of this conversation), his more recent stuff doesn't draw me at all.

    Sometimes, during my walk home, I find myself singing Space Oddity or Life on Mars. And the darkly romantic As the World Falls Down is still the song I want to fall in love to! =P

    PS -- I'll be putting up my live blog of The Blob this Friday, in case you want to put up a review I can link up. =)

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  5. I'll admit I haven't listened to most of Bowie's most recent work. During my NIN obsession I spent some time listening to the stuff they worked on together as well as some of his own, and while I like the general mood, it didn't really draw me in the same way as his earlier stuff.

    Thanks for the heads up. I've got it partially written but I do need to watch the remake, so I'll put that on the agenda for this week. :)

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