Elvis was always big box office, but this year -- 31 years after his death, and 39 years after his last acting role -- he's "appeared" in some real blockbusters, including the movie that's poised to challenge "Titanic" as the biggest hit of all time, "The Dark Knight."
To quote the title of another hit movie that taps into the Presley magic: Mamma mia!
The King -- onscreen, as well as on television and on radio -- is here to stay. His image, his songs and his name continue to be brandished by filmmakers, in contexts both respectful and ridiculous.
From Elvis Week 2007 to Elvis Week 2008 (the annual event that commemorates Elvis' Aug. 16, 1977, death officially begins Saturday), I made note of every reference to Elvis I saw on the big screen. The result of this labor is this story: The Commercial Appeal's 12th annual survey of "Elvis Allusions in the Movies."
"The Dark Knight" features a brief visual gag depicting a police bulletin board of "Batman Suspects" that includes pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Bigfoot and Elvis, who is spreading the cape of his jumpsuit, Batman-style.
Another big hit, Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," gives Elvis major exposure when "Hound Dog" plays during the opening scene in the Nevada desert in which drag-racing kids challenge a convoy of Army vehicles.
Michael Myers -- the future soulless implacable killer -- is introduced as a kid with a pet rat named Elvis in Rob Zombie's remake of "Halloween." "Morning Elvis, you're a pretty Elvis, aren't you?" says li'l Mikey Myers (Daeg Faerch). Later, he reports: "Elvis died. I had to flush him."
"I'm gonna make it big -- just like Elvis Presley," an 11-year-old African-American kid (Marcus Carl Franklin), who represents one aspect of Bob Dylan, tells a roomful of privileged white folks in director Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There."
During the "Dancing Queen" number with Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters in "Mamma Mia!," Walters appears suddenly in a pair of Elvis glasses and breaks into a low-key Elvis imitation just when the final, Elvis-apropos word of this lyric is sung: "Friday night and the lights are low/ Looking out for the place to go/ Where they play the right music, getting in the swing/ You come in to look for a king." (Male stars Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgrd appear in Elvis-esque jumpsuits for the campy musical performances during the end credits, but it's likely these costumes are an homage to the outrageous 1970s apparel of ABBA rather than to Elvis.)
When Jack Black and Mos Def shoot their no-budget remake of "Ghostbusters" in the bizarro comedy "Be Kind Rewind," Black -- apparently in pursuit of ghosts -- says to a librarian: "Hey, have you talked to Elvis lately?"
In the little-seen horror thriller "P2," Wes Bentley plays an Elvis-obsessed psycho security guard who stalks unfortunate businesswoman Rachel Nichols after she's accidentally locked in a parking garage on Christmas Eve. Bentley's character keeps a "Las Vegas Presents Elvis" figure near the TV in his office, and he blasts Elvis' recording of "Blue Christmas" over the garage sound system to terrify his victim. He sings along to the entire song, using a broomstick as a microphone, dancing with a Teddy bear, and concluding with a "Thank you -- thank you very much." As he performs, we see a framed photo of what appears to be the security guard dressed as the '70s Elvis in a hotel corridor, presumably during an Elvis convention. "Blue Christmas" also plays during the end credits.
The year's biggest Elvis fan, however, was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as football quarterback Joe Kingman in the year's most Elvis-centric movie, the Disney family film, "The Game Plan." Kingman -- nicknamed "The King," like his idol -- is an avid Elvis fan whose bachelor-pad apartment is decorated with football trophies and Elvis memorabilia, including a red jumpsuit. Kingman's cell phone has a "Jailhouse Rock" ringtone, and his front door chime plays "Love Me Tender." When Kingman scores a touchdown, the p.a. system at his home stadium blares "Jailhouse Rock." Kingman watches the Elvis cliffdiving sequence from "Fun in Acapulco" on TV, and sings "Burning Love" into the mirror. When the playboy superstar becomes saddled with the 8-year-old daughter (Madison Pettis) he never knew he had, he asks his "King Creole" poster: "Any advice?" Later, he strums an Elvis replica guitar and serenades the girl with "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" That same song is exploited for even schmaltzier effect when it reappears in an orchestral version when the girl and Kingman are separted. The movie opens with the Paul Oakenfold remix of Elvis' "Rubberneckin'"; the end credits find the cast dancing and singing to Elvis' recording of "Burning Love."
In "Taxi to the Dark Side" -- this year's winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature -- a thuggish-looking U.S. soldier, Pfc. Damien Corsetti, who was stationed at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, reports that he inexplicably used to add a little Elvis to his interrogation of detainees. "I'd yell at 'em if, y'know, Elvis was really the king of rock, or if he was dead, or stuff like that."
In another "war on terror" documentary, "No End in Sight," we see a clip from a home movie made by a U.S. contractor in Iraq that matches footage of the dangerous streets with Elvis' recording of "Mystery Train."
In David Gordon Green's smalltown indie melodrama "Snow Angels," a man (Nicky Katt) colors in a book with a little girl. "Look, he's got blue suede shoes, like Elvis," the man says. "He's like Elvis."
A standee of Elvis in his "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong" gold lamé suit is glimpsed briefly in a behind-the-scenes shot in Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert documentary, "Shine a Light."
Elvis' 1967 recording of "You Don't Know Me," a song written by Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker, plays during a diner scene featuring Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard in "The Brave One."
Elvis sings "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" over a montage of Christmas scenes in "Fred Claus," a comedy about Saint Nick's ne'er-do-well brother (Vince Vaughn). Later, Fred rocks the elves in the toy shop by replacing their traditional Christmas music with the Paul Oakenfold remix of "Rubberneckin'."
Vaughn and the King crossed paths again in the awkwardly titled concert tour documentary "Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights -- Hollywood to the Heartland." When Vaughn brings his "original partner in crime" Jon Favreau onstage on the first night of the tour, Elvis' "Burning Love" plays. When the tour reaches Vegas, we hear Presley's "Viva Las Vegas." In Bakersfield, Calif., at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, we see an old Elvis Cadillac mounted on the wall. Elvis' "Too Much" is heard during one transitional montage, and shots of the gang of comics clowning around at Graceland and Sun Studio dominate the film's brief Memphis segment.
Rock star Jack White briefly appears as Elvis in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," a spoof of music biopics with John C. Reilly as the Johnny Cash-esque title goofball. We see a marquee that reads: "Tonight -- Elvis Presley and Others," then see White as Elvis (he's got the voice down pretty good, but that shark nose isn't very Presley-esque), proclaiming "Ah'm the King," and demonstrating the martial art of "kara-tay, known only to two kinds of people, the Chinese and the King." Elvis gives Dewey his big break when he lets him close a show ("Elvis wants to get out of here early -- he's hungry"), so the order of performance becomes the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, Elvis and then Dewey Cox. Late in the film, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam gives Dewey a Lifetime Achievement Award, stating: "If Elvis and Buddy Holly were the Cain and Abel of rock and roll... what does that make Dewey Cox?"
Unsurprisingly, the documentary "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," about the late rock icon and frontman of The Clash, contains a few Elvis references. A tape of a Strummer-hosted radio show includes the song "Crawfish" from the soundtrack of "King Creole" (1958), which Strummer identifies as his favorite Elvis tune. Footage of Presley as a G.I. in Germany accompanies voiceover about the Strummer family's move to Bonn, and a movie theater marquee advertising the 1981 documentary "This Is Elvis" can be seen during stock footage of protesters in the streets of England.
A poster of Andy Warhol's 1962 silkscreen "Elvis (Eleven Times)," which reproduced a shot of Presley as a gunslinger from the 1960 Western "Flaming Star," is seen behind video blogger Jake Casey during a scene in "omg/HaHaHa," the latest movie from local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox.
"Sounds of a Miracle," a documentary about local African-American classical music composer Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, reports that its subject's achievements are even more surprising "in Memphis, home of blues and gospel music and Elvis Presley...."
The name of Elvis Polanski -- infant son of director Roman Polanski, named in honor of the King of Rock and Roll -- is listed as playing "Jen-Do enfant" in the French-language film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
Predictably, Elvis abounded in the features and shorts screened during various local film festivals. An Elvis clock, an Elvis-in-Hawaii poster and a "Fun in Acapulco" poster are seen in the regional music documentary, "Delta Rising." The "Elvis Presley and Sun Records" historical marker is seen during the jug band documentary, "Chasin' Gus' Ghost." Elvis clocks and similar souvenirs are seen on the walls of the Center for Southern Folklore during a Daddy Mack Blues Band performance in the documentary "Plan Man Blues." The short "Blue Suede Wings" equates Elvis with the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. And Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley ("Age: Old... Weight: Fat... Super Powers: Pelvis Thrust/ Kung Fu Grip/ (Girl) Magnet... Weaknesses: Pills/ (Girls)/ Peanuts/ Bacon") battle in the wrestling ring with an assist from Jerry Lawler in the "Li'l Film Fest" favorite "King of the Ring."
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394