Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 26 July 2010
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Heart of The King
Elvis Presley never died; at least not in Las Vegas. If there have been numerous sightings of the King since his reported death on August 16, 1977, it’s because that someone, somewhere is grooming, dressing, singing and gyrating like him. Nonstop. 24/7.
No one appreciates that fact better than John Stuart, producer of Legends in Concert, the longest running celebrity impersonation show in Las Vegas. Often called “the Father of celebrity impersonation” the self-proclaimed Elvis magnet knows his King types and says there are three; those with the look, those with the voice, and those with the heart.
Stuart is also the real-life father of Shane Stuart (Self Medicated), producer/writer/director of the 90 minute documentary Heart of the King. The production is Shane Stuart’s directorial debut and the first feature produced by his production company, Lunch Box Films. The film won an Audience Favorite Award at the Silver Lake Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Heart of the King premiered at the Elvis Fan’s Festival, Convention, Contest and Concert at the Las Vegas Hilton on Thursday, July 15th. The four-day convention celebrated the King’s 75th Birthday Year and all things (actually, all men) Elvis.
Shane, along with assistant director Andrew Lankes traveled to Memphis to initially interview fans believing that Elvis faked his death. The pair’s tone was less than respectful with the subject matter, as noted by many of the fans.
Ultimately, Shane and Andrew revised their focus to document the unique spirit of four rather atypical Elvis tribute artists (ETA’s). Moved by the devotion and dedication of their subjects, the filmmakers, along with John Stuart, traveled across the US to film these unique individuals, inspired by Elvis in attitude, song, moves, dress, and even religion.
Indiana natives Mark (Sutt) and Danny (Morton) are a karaoke tag team called Double Vision that idolize Elvis so much that they live in the singer’s persona. The two even go bowling as a pair of bookend Kingpins (pardon the pun) and revel in the spirit of the man they idolize. The sweet nature of the two helps the viewer overlook some of the pair’s obvious physical and intellectual challenges. Mark is the better singer of the two, but Danny’s taller.
Little E (Austin Hopkins) is an adopted child from North Carolina, who his guardians Robin and Ronny say “came alive” upon hearing his first Elvis recording. The once introverted little boy blossomed into an Elvis-inspired dancing machine incorporating all of the hip, leg and arm movements of his idol. He’s sings onstage accompanied by an Elvis vocal track, but is working on training his own voice to carry the act.
Elvis Priestly (Dorian Baxter) is an Episcopalian Bishop from Toronto who uses an Elvis persona to spread the word of Jesus. Likening Elvis tunes to “a spiritual nuclear bomb”, Priestly is shown in a nursing home, coaxing the most afflicted woman to sing along to “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” Priestly never breaks the persona, even frequenting a jogging path, which to me seems like a dead giveaway that he’s NOT Elvis. Priestly claims to be celibate (another NOT), but realizes that sex sells, and if Elvis’s seemingly universal sex appeal can help him sell Jesus, he’s all for it.
No documentary on Elvis would be complete without white jumpsuits, large sideburns cupping faces like furry parentheses, the modified aviator glasses, sequined belts loaded with bling, big enough to double as heavyweight sports awards. There’s the iconic theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the swooping black hairline shaped like a curving skateboard track. There are the karate moves and the silk scarves around the neck.
The documentary splits its time between its four “stars”. Since Mark and Danny are a team, they are together most of the time, except for shots of day jobs or relationships (Mark is a married hospital custodian; Danny is a divorced machine operator with a grown son).
Puppets of Mark and Danny show up at interludes and depict them in a variety of scenes, one of which has them cavorting with two women in a Cadillac. These form a somewhat surreal, dream-like view of the pair as living an idealized Elvis lifestyle. A visit to Danny’s mother Edna reveals that her home is a virtual Elvis shrine, and her other son, David, has cultivated an Elvis look as well.
Robin and Ronny Smith, Little E’s guardians attend his shows and encourage his Elvis aspirations. He “got hisself into it” says Robin with a North Carolina flair, “he just LOVES being on stage.”
Elvis Priestly traces his Elvis inspiration back to 1956 (he was five years old) when he heard his first Elvis recording and knew it would have something to do with his adult life.
The four are invited by John Stuart to take part in a Las Vegas Elvis competition on Fremont Street, where multiple Elvis tribute artists in various incarnations (Army, Jailhouse Rock, Jumpsuit, Gold Suit). It’s a culmination of a lifelong dream, with the three adults matching the child’s excitement and wonder at being allowed to perform in the King’s own playground.
Channeling the essence and spirit of the King, each of the four subjects give us
a glimpse of their passion, which permeates their individual Elvis tributes with an openness and pureness that puts us on their side.
Shane Stuart and Andrew Lankes admit late in the film that they had considered and even filmed some contrived scenes and fed lines to their ETA’s, deciding at the last minute to portray truth instead of trumped-up filler. They are rewarded with an honesty that transcends the screen, transforming derision into respect and skepticism into integrity.
For the fans, for the artists, and especially for the four Elvis devotees featured, there’s no “My Elvis is better than your Elvis.” There’s just Elvis. Heart of the King shows us that for many, that is enough, thank you. Thank you very much.