Elvis: why Baz Luhrmann uses so much modern music

Austin Butler sings and swings in Elvis, but he’s only the beginning of how modern music has been used to tell the King’s story. Kanye West also helped.

Elvis’ music is among the most famous in the world, which is why it’s so surprising that Baz Luhrmann’s short story Elvis the film uses so much modern music to tell its story. The film has been hailed by critics and viewers alike, earning a 12-minute standing ovation at Cannes this year and slamming Tom Cruise Top Gun: Maverick of its reign at number one at the summer box office. However, many have questioned Luhrmann’s use of today’s music and contemporary artists in the film.

The Elvis The film follows Presley throughout his life, from his birth in 1935 until his death in 1977. The story chronicles his rise to fame with the release of his first single “That’s Alright” in 1954 followed by a cultural fever that will follow him throughout his career. career until his tragic death. The story is reminiscent of other biopics that have been released in recent years like the story of Queen’s Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and the story of Elton John in Rocketman (except that the fantastic Elton John is still alive). However, Luhrmann stands out with the new Elvis movie because, unlike other biopics that rely on music by the original artist, Luhrmann’s Elvis is steeped in modern artists of almost every genre.

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The film’s success led to a heated debate over whether or not Luhrmann should have gone the traditional biopic route and relied on Elvis’ extensive musical catalog. However, the magnetism of the film was largely born from Luhrmann’s bet. In fact, two of the new Elvis The film’s most important scenes – Elvis’ arrest and his scene on Beale Street – were created using the talents of modern blues artist Gary Clark Jr. and rapper Kanye West. Modern blues artist Gary Clark Jr. plays one of Elvis’ greatest inspirations, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. And while Crudup played an important role in Elvis’ career (he recorded what would become Elvis’ first hit, “That’s Alright” in 1946), Clark Jr.’s role behind the scenes is just as important. interesting. In the Elvis movie, Austin Butler sings Elvis’ “Trouble,” a song Elvis performed so provocatively that it led to his arrest. However, the style of the original music sounds so tame today that it was hard to convey the emotion the song would have evoked at the time. That’s why audiences hear Clark Jr. shred on his guitar in the Elvis movie version – it helps create the fever and thrill that Elvis’ performance would have inspired live.


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Austin Butler performing "Difficulty" to Elvis

Luhrmann also encountered problems trying to transmit electricity from Beale Street to Memphis in the Elvis film. The scene shows Butler’s Elvis escaping the stale, commercially saturated world built by Elvis’ tyrannical manager, Colonel Tom Parker, for the authentic, bustling world of Beale Street. During filming, however, the scene lacked life. To remedy this, Luhrmann blasted Kanye West’s song “Black Skinhead” and watched the scene come to life, once again using today’s music to create the emotion of Elvis’ world.

Given these examples, it stands to reason that the new Elvis the film is only bettered by Luhrmann’s musical risk-taking. It is through the artists of today that Luhrmann is able to renew the experience that Elvis fans would have had when Elvis was a modern musician. Moreover, the choice of Luhrmann does not detract from the legend of Elvis but deepens it by showing the importance of his musical influence in all musical genres even today.


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