ON A PERSONAL NOTE: ELVIS

(BY SAÏDEH PAKRAVAN) Back in the days, I was the ultimate Elvis fan. I skipped school fourteen times, fourteen times, to see Jailhouse Rock when it first came out (1957). Elvis’s lamentable cinematographic career is redeemed by that one movie, still good today, by King Creole (1958) made by the great Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, and by Flaming Star (1960), directed by Don Siegel. All the rest with directors such as Norman Taurog, Frederick de Cordova, Peter Tewksbury (Peter who?) were just pathetic crap. The destruction of Elvis as a potential good actor and as a great singer was the handiwork of his “agent,” an unspeakable leech, a carny spawned from the Netherlands who called himself Tom Parker, dubbed himself colonel, and anointed himself gatekeeper to all things Elvis, a shame as Elvis wanted to be a serious actor and Parker saw him as pure ka-tching, a machine that poured into his undeserving lap 50 percent of whatever Elvis earned. Parker quickly put an end to any dream of a film career. Elvis who had seen himself as capable of following in the footsteps of Brando or of James Dean (he had been just twenty in 1955 when Dean crashed his Porsche in the Mojave desert) was from now on only allowed to swivel his hips in Fun in Acapulco and Girls, Girls, Girls and more of the same. God forbid that he pursue a serious career, think of the years wasted! when money, pure gold—from all those swooning bobby-soxers who bought the records and skipped school to see his movies—could keep on pouring in. And Elvis, born in a shack in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, remained a good southern boy to the end. In the south, you don’t question your elders, you say yes sir and yes ma’am, and yes colonel. You don’t rebel. It is a tribute to the Elvis charisma that he remains fascinating, a uniquely American phenomenon who influenced everything that came after him. As his songs became cornier, as he became a grotesque Vegas entertainer, draped in billows of fat and gem-studded polyester, his voice grew more magnificent. The pathetic movies that Parker allowed him to “act” in can’t quite prevent the persona from seeping through. Those cheekbones, those kohl-lined eyes, his amazing smile, his easygoing charm, prevent us from gagging when, zapping late at night, we chance upon one of those god-awful stories. Hollywood legend, Elvis is not. But thirty years after his death, despite Parker and a catastrophic twenty-two year run (except the first few) that would have felled a lesser man, he is still very much the King.

© 2007 Ali Naderzad


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