Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Elvis and Me

Following on from that Elvis film, I found myself dragged into "Elvis and Me" - a biopic based on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's memoir.  At nearly three hours long, I felt like I had endured the courtship and marriage along with them.

I wanted to see how they handled the delicate matter of Priscilla being a minor.  There's no way round the fact that Priscilla was fourteen when they met and Elvis was twenty-four.  Although they didn't go all the way until their wedding night, some eight years after they met in Germany, there were quite a few stops at services along the way.

The woman playing Priscilla reminded me a little too much of Pam Dawber (Mindy of "Mork and Mindy") but she managed to play both the naive teen and the fucked-off wife believably.  Elvis was only Elvis at fleeting angles, like a hologram.  Until he became Bloated Elvis.  At one point he looked menacingly at Priscilla from under his brows and it was Bloated Elvis to the life. 

A certain amount of licence is granted often to celebrities because they are "not like us".  Also, one tends to think that the Sixties was pretty much another country.  That other country's borders extended up to the Eighties, when Bill Wyman was touting his similarly-aged girlfriend about London, to no more than slightly raised eyebrows.  Of course, now there isn't a single TV personality or DJ from that time who isn't trembling in his cardigan.

Priscilla moved from Germany to live with Elvis when she was sixteen, and I suspect it was kept very quiet (Jerry Lee Lewis had more or less ruined his career by marrying his thirteen year old cousin in the late Fifties).  There were chaperone and educational conditions offered to appease Priscilla's parents, but in reality she lived at Graceland as his de facto wife.  The film certainly did not skirt around the sexual side of their relationship and I doubt that, if it were made today, so much of it would be shown.  There was much of what swimming pools used to call "heavy petting" from the time they first met, and the supposed fourteen year old had her top off and was participating more than enthusiastically.  Bear in mind that both versions of the film Lolita did not demonstrate a fourteen year old with sexual agency and yet generated a huge amount of controversy.

I suppose the difference here is that Priscilla is telling her own story.  Of course, this means we get a version of Elvis coloured by her experience, but it was fascinating to watch his progress (if you can call it such) from a shy and slightly pervy US army conscript, through the TV-shooting years and darkened rooms of buttoned leather and swagged velvet, to the karate and white-suited bloat.

In conclusion, I don't think this story is about age, or celebrity, or sexual perversion.  It's about the powerful confection that two people create and call love.  Priscilla's parents were helpless in the face or her determination to be with him.  I think we've all been Priscilla sometimes, mouthing those four words "But I love him!" as a spell, or a reason, or excuse, or a charm.  So it seems celebrities are a bit like us after all.  And that's why we sit up till 1.00am watching biopics.

Elvis and Me (1988)
Directed by: Larry Peerce
Written by: Joyce Eliason, from Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's autobiography "Elvis and Me"
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Susan Walters

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