Weekend Entertainment: Baz Luhrmann on his tragic, razzle-dazzle ‘Elvis’

CANNES, France (AP) — It’s the day before Baz Luhrmann is to unveil “Elvis” at the Cannes Film Festival, and it goes without saying that the director — one of cinema’s most maximalist moviemakers — is ready to put on a show.

“I’ve been ready to put on a show since I was born,” Luhrmann says in a hotel looking out on Cannes’ Croisette.

Luhrmann was first in Cannes exactly 30 years ago with his debut “Strictly Ballroom,” which he recalls as initially struggling to make any noise. That’s emphatically not been the case for “Elvis,” an operatic opus about the larger-than-life music legend that premiered Wednesday in Cannes with all the clamor of a carnival.

Told with Luhrmann’s signature freewheeling flare, “Elvis,” which Warner Bros. opens in theaters June 24, approaches a mostly life-spanning portrait of Presley (played by Austin Butler) as narrated by his infamous manager, Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), who helped make Presley a superstar but also manipulated and controlled him.

For a mythologized icon often recalled either in “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” camp or as an epitome of cultural appropriation, Luhrmann’s “Elvis” seeks to make alive Presley’s power as a radical artistic force forged in Black blues and gospel whose unconventionality posed a threat to mainstream America.

“Everyone has their Elvis,” says Luhrmann.

And it’s clear that Luhrmann’s “Elvis” — which had its production halted when Hanks tested positive for COVID-19 at the outset of the pandemic — is a kind of capstone for the 59-year-old Australian filmmaker about the nature of show business and daring to be different.

“I don’t know if I’m going to make another film again. Maybe I’ll make a hundred,” says Luhrmann. “But somehow on ‘Elvis,’ on almost every step in this journey there’s been something unusual, some unique memory. Maybe there will be a film that’s been as extraordinary journey as this film, but I doubt it.”


AP: Was your vision for “Elvis” always something different than a conventional biopic portrait?