40 years after Elvis’ death, Eugene Jarecki goes on a road trip with Elvis’ car. Visiting important places in Elvis’ life, meeting musicians , they trace both Elvis’ life and career and the rise and fall of the USA that seems to run parallel.
The King is a strong, interesting documentary that takes a critical look at the USA and Elvis himself. Especially the latter is way too rare and bitterly needed, so for that alone it is worth it. It’s not the only thing the film has going for itself though.
When people talk about Elvis nowadays, it is always with an aura of reverence. He was the King. He was a genius, a tragic one. He was the biggest thing ever. And all of these things may be true, but it’s a pretty lopsided way of looking at him. This documentary dares to look at the other side as well, particularly at Elvis’ problematic entanglement – or lack of entanglement – in racial politics in the USA. The way his music builds on black music, made palatable to the masses through Elvis as a white man; and the way he never gave back to the black community for profiting off of them.
I also thought it was a really interesting angle to see Elvis as emblematic for the entire development of the USA – and it works surprisingly well to trace the USAmerican history through Elvis who was at the center of pop culture.
To achieve this, they found mostly very interesting talking partners, a lot of whom are musicians. Unfortunately they barely found any women who were, apparently, worth talking to – the entire film is pretty male-centered and barely any women get something to say or make music.
The film is filled with good music (my personal favorite discovery were Lindy Vision) and with that manages to become not only a critical look at Elvis, but also a celebration of music – the (black) music that made him great and that still is hugely influential.
All of this makes the film really something to behold. I am really glad I watched it.
Summarizing: Very, very much worth seeing.