Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

WAY DOWN

July 6,  1977 Elvis Presley’s single “Way Down” is released.

*Cover Photo from “Elvis: An American Seeker” (Mural in progress) ©2020 Alfred Eaker

Related: Discover “Brother Cobweb”, a novel by Alfred Eaker

About Alfred Eaker:

Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is a prolific fine arts painter and muralist, an award-winning filmmaker and film critic, and a traditionally-published author. Following on the success of his debut novel, “Brother Cobweb,” Eaker is currently collaborating with Todd M. Coe on the related Graphic novel: “The Brother Cobweb Chronicles.It will be available in the spring 2021. The audiobook version of Brother Cobweb is also being produced, and will soon be released too.

As an inquisitive American artist, he has always been deeply engaged in social, religious, and political climates. Eaker is currently working on a mural painting entitled “Elvis: An American Hymn.” Through it, Eaker is trying to bring affirming answers to issues of race, integration and hope so desperately needed at this moment in America.

Follow Alfred Eaker Online:

In The Ghetto

July 5, 1969 – Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto” hits #2 in the U.K.

It’s interesting in that originally I found this song thick in laying on the sentimentality and a bit schmaltzy. It doesn’t seem so at all today, Indeed, with everything surrounding us, it seems more relevant than ever.

Then, as I read this in a FB group today, I discovered a bit of background about it. Presley and his producer were set to record it when Presley’s manager, Tom Parker, voiced an objection, citing that it was “too political and too controversial.” Presley overshot his manager’s objections with a memo, “did you grow up poor? We’re recording this song.”

Since his death, there’s been a tendency to label Presley a racist, he stole black music, etc. These comments are always made by people who never met him and yet it’s easy to see why that is assumed; after all he was southern, politically conservative, and a redneck (he was). It only goes to stand… only it doesn’t.

Presley was raised in a black Pentecostal church. It was the music he knew. He grew up dirt poor in a racially mixed neighborhood.  No one who knew him, either well or casually, makes claims of his being a racist; quite the reverse, indeed they vehemently deny it,  and peers such as Chuck Berry, James Brown, and B.B. King frequently tried to set the record straight and quash the myth of his being bigoted.

It matters, even today, so many years after Presley’s decline and self-willed death because, even if unintentionally,  he serves as a model of sorts;  one can be southern, politically conservative, and even a good old boy, without mantling systematic racism or traditions of white supremacy.  The late Little Richard called Presley an integrator. “In the Ghetto” is perhaps the Presley song that best manifests Richard’s claim and advocates the long past due need for cultural and spiritual integration.

Look inside Alfred Eaker’s debut Novel:

About Alfred Eaker:

Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is a prolific fine arts painter and muralist, an award-winning filmmaker and film critic, and a traditionally-published author. Following on the success of his debut novel, “Brother Cobweb,” Eaker is currently collaborating with Todd M. Coe on the related Graphic novel: “The Brother Cobweb Chronicles.It will be available in the spring 2021. The audiobook version of Brother Cobweb is also being produced, and will soon be released too.

As an inquisitive American artist, he has always been deeply engaged in social, religious, and political climates. Eaker is currently working on a mural painting entitled “Elvis: An American Hymn.” Through it, Eaker is trying to bring affirming answers to issues of race, integration and hope so desperately needed at this moment in America.

Follow Alfred Eaker Online:

“THE KING” (2017) AND “POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD” (2018)

Eugene Jarecki is an intelligent documentary filmmaker who earned his reputation with Why We Fight(2005), Reagan(2011) and The House I Live In(2012). His latest, The King, focuses on as a symbol of the profligate American dream: a xenophobic pop culture phenomenon that remains as potent a seed today in Trump’s ‘Murica as it was in 1956, perhaps even more so. The original title of Jarecki’s film was “Promised Land” and, unwisely, distributors forced a name change. Apparently it was misleading to an audience believing (and hoping) it to be a straightforward biography of the late rock star. The American box office resulted in a whimper (although it has done well overseas). That’s unfortunate, as it’s a compelling, insightful and necessary film. As a contemporary artist, Jarecki is a provocateur. Before we get into that, here’s an insight from a filmmaker who has the pulse of contemporary art, and its audience:

“I like art that challenges you and makes a lot of people angry because they don’t get it. Because they refuse to look at it properly. Rather than open their mind to the possibility of seeing something, they just resist. A lot of people think contemporary art makes them feel stupid. Because they are stupid. They’re right. If you have contempt about contemporary art, you are stupid. You can be the most uneducated person in the world and completely appreciate contemporary art, because you see the rebellion. You see that it’s trying to change things.”–

Damn right. This is ambitious, highly charged, demanding contemporary art as documentary filmmaking. While we might concede that it overreaches, isn’t that better than a spoon-fed, orthodox approach? Some critics have complained that its premise is simplistic and yet paradoxically complicated. One might argue that, given the subject, and ultimately it’s also overly simplistic to dismiss it as simplistic. A thesis simply wouldn’t do, and Jarecki’s aesthetics are grisly and lurid, akin to what Albert Goldman did so brilliantly in his infamous biography of Presley. Like Goldman, Jarecki parallels the Presley phenomenon with the decline of America; but in the era of Donald Trump, Jarecki’s drive ultimately proves even more visceral than that slice of Americana written by Goldman in 1981.

Jarecki gets behind the wheels of Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce and takes a cross-country tour from Tupelo, Mississippi (Presley’s birthplace and childhood home) and Memphis, Tennessee (home of Graceland) to Hollywood and Vegas (the dual cities that killed him— along with the Army, Presley’s first peddler that neutered him). Along the way, Jarecki picks up commentators such as James Carville, Emmylou Harris, D.J. Fontana (Presley’s drummer), Jerry Schilling (Presley’s best friend), (a certified Elvis fan and the film’s producer), Alec Baldwin, Mike Meyers (startlingly lucid), Ashton Kutcher (the most misplaced), and church folk. The last viewpoint is important, because they’re the very same evangelicals that sacrificed their ethics to vote for Trump (and other morally bankrupt characters, e.g. Roy Moore) to secure their white bread system. We can, of course, succumb to condescending platitudes that the low-informed are easy targets; but it was underestimating their numbers that secured Trump’s ‘Murica.

Yes, The King is devastatingly political. It damn well should be, because we can’t accept the (borrowed) excuse of  someone like the WWII-era Berlin Philharmonic conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, who feebly spin-doctored sitting on his hands with the justification of avoiding politics. Rather, he avoided an ethical backbone. Jarecki’s politicizing of American culture is justified because now, more than ever—in an age where some restaurants require a college degree and 3-4 years experience to get into management—we elected a blatantly misogynistic, racially pandering, trash TV host, with no previous governing experience, to the highest office in the land. We did so in adulation of his (inherited, not earned) money and pop celebrity status. When Jarecki paints a connection between the fat Elvis of casino excess dying on a toilet to the fat blowhard and pornstar-lubbin’ casino baron, in way over his head, retreating to the golf course, it’s done so with the subtlety of a Batman KAPOW!

The composer Gustav Mahler once said, “A symphony, like the world, should contain everything.” That is the inherent, authentic spirituality of Jarecki’s The King. Admittedly, by encompassing everything, it occasionally gets away from the filmmaker, but there is also a refreshingly idiosyncratic sprawling quality that renders it unforgettable.

Continue reading “THE KING” (2017) AND “POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD” (2018)

A JAW-DROPPING ELVIS DOUBLE FEATURE: LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE (1968) & EASY COME, EASY GO (1967)

As a pop music star, Elvis Presley had an unparalleled career (although it is questionable whether his music is much listened to today outside of Memphis). His film career, although financially successful, was a different story altogether—remarkable only in the thirty-plus (mostly wretched) films produced in a scant dozen years. Among the worst, which is saying a lot, are two near the end of his film run. Itching to get back into live performance, Presley was merely fulfilling his MGM contract at this point and, barely mastering any enthusiasm, took whatever script was handed him.

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968, directed by frequent Presley collaborator Norman Taurog and scripted by Dan Greenburg from his novel “Kiss My Firm but Pliant Lips”) is a like the Rankin and Bass cartoon “Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974) in that it contains a single scene of naive surrealism at its most jaw-dropping, “WTF were they thinking?” level, which almost makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.

The Pelvis is a photojournalist here named Greg, working at a “Playboy”-like outfit. Of course, that means he’s going to be taking lots of pinup pics. The blatant sexism would seem woefully dated, except we’ve elected a lot of Neanderthal politicos lately (from both sides), and that unfortunately renders the film more contemporary than it was a few years ago. Greg’s practically stalked by a wacky, bikini-clad gal who might be named Bernice… or Alice… or Suzy…don’t ask. I’m still not sure, but whoever she is, she’s played by Michele Carey, one of those anonymous eye-candy actresses you may recall seeing a lot. (Carey is primarily known for this and the 1967 John Wayne/Howard Hawks oater El Dorado). Bernice also has a Great Dane named Albert who will become for this film what Mr. Heat Miser was for “Year Without A Santa Claus.” Rounding off a weird cast is prolific character actor Sterling Holloway (whom we recently saw as Professor Twiddle/Professor Quinn in “ The Adventures of Superman”) as a milkman (don’t ask—I still don’t know why), Rudy Valle as a Hugh Heffner type (?), and Dick Sargent (best known as Darren #2 from “Bewitched”), who might be Bernice’s husband (just don’t ask).

Continue reading A JAW-DROPPING ELVIS DOUBLE FEATURE: LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE (1968) & EASY COME, EASY GO (1967)

ELVIS (1979) & THIS IS ELVIS (1981)

Elvis (1979 Dir . John Carpenter)THIS IS ELVIS (1981)

The life of Elvis Presley is the perfect American grand guignol tale that has never really been captured on film. John Carpenter’s Elvis (1979) has finally been released in its full three hour European theatrical version. Some consider it to still be the best film on the subject of Elvis.

Elvis Presely in concert 1950s

Elvis Presley was undoubtedly a phenomenon. He was as poor white trash as poor white trash can get, growing up in a predominantly black Pentecostal church. Many African-Americans have accused him of stealing their music. Actually, it’s all he knew, and he treated it with reverence. Accusations of racism are certainly factual, but only from an off-color perspective. Like Sammy Davis, Jr., Elvis had an intense self-loathing for his own blackness.

Elvis Presley 1956Elvis Presely and Colonel Tom Parker

Continue reading ELVIS (1979) & THIS IS ELVIS (1981)

FLAMING STAR (1960)

Flaming Star Elvis POSTERHollywood’s model of taking pop music phenomenons and placing them in film productions began with Bing Crosby and accelerated with Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, producers were usually clueless as to how to tap the stars’ prodigious talents. The model petered out in Madonna’s whisper of a film career. In between Madonna and Bing came the biggest and perhaps most disappointing of them all: Elvis Presley. Tinseltown did attempt to tailor its vehicles to Presley, which may have been one of its big missteps. Most critics and audiences concede that Presley’s early films were the best, though many might argue that is not saying much. Presley debuted in the Civil War era Western Love Me Tender (1956) with a supporting role, while Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) all had thinly disguised biographical elements. Yet, none of these films fully captured the unbridled energy and vitality seen in just a few moments of Presley’s documentary footage of the period. G.I. Blues (1960) began a deadly slide, placing the star in dumbed-down, misogynistic family fare. Blues reached its nadir with the king of rock and roll singing to a puppet.

FLAMING STAR 1960 Continue reading FLAMING STAR (1960)