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Rock ’n’ Roller road trip in The King

Director Eugene Jarecki used Elvis Presley’s Rolls Royce as a vehicle for Chuck D, Mike Myers and many others to share their opinions on the King and America

24 August, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Elvis’s 1963 Rolls Royce heads from Memphis to New York, taking in Las Vegas and many other vital places in the US psyche

THE KING
Directed by Eugene Jarecki
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆☆

THERE was a line in one of the knockout shows by the late, great comedian Bill Hicks that lamented what the USA did to Elvis Presley: how a man who on the face of it had a lovely voice and gorgeous looks became completely corrupted, both physically and morally.

Hicks saw Elvis as a standard-bearer for what was wrong with America, someone who could produce something incredible, drawing on so many global influences, but essentially go politically bonkers before a horribly unsavoury end.

Presley died, aged 42, on the toilet having eaten himself into a lifestyle situation where he was going to have a coronary.

This Dogwoof-produced documentary uses Elvis’s 1963 Rolls Royce as a starting point – a beautiful car – which is taken across America on a classic road trip, giving director Eugene Jarecki a vehicle to consider Presley as the American Body Politic – the era of Trump is like having eaten way too many deep-fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches before being marooned on a golden toilet seat, doing oneself a nasty mischief as a nation huffs, puffs, clenches and squeezes.

Heading from Memphis to New York, taking in Las Vegas and many other vital places in the US psyche, the Roller becomes somewhere for others to give their take on the state of the nation, seen through a prism of the art it produces.

And what a cast of voices Jarecki has put together. They range from people who are fans and those who most certainly are not. It’s pretty wonderful to hear Chuck D – the Public Enemy legend – not holding back in his take-down of the singer. Other voices are less relentless in their criticism and include Alec Baldwin, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke and Mike Myers (who is unsurprisingly humorous, while being enlighteningly eloquent).

What works so well is how Jarecki has put together a pretty warts-and-all portrait of a country deeply uncomfortable with itself today and traced, through using of one its greatest global exports and cultural figures, its highs and lows.

This is more than just a clever metaphor, this is a highly entertaining and thoughtful film. One suspects the Elvis fans out there might find it hard to watch at first but the footage and storytelling is such that it deserves an audience way beyond its political echo chamber – a sad occurrence with the wave of political documentaries released in recent times.

Elvis Presley was the voice of his country at its best and worst, a man who stood on the shoulders of musical giants, and sold black music to a white audience often without properly recognising who influenced him.

But as Jarecki shows, he wandered through the great American musical landscape of the 20th century and soaked it up like a sponge.

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