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Does Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla Treat Elvis Presley Fairly? read full article at

Nonetheless, the emails were exchanged on Sept. 2, 2022, weeks before principal photography started on Oct. 24, 2022, and about 10 pages of the script were reportedly trimmed. This reportedly toned down elements from the movie’s nonfiction source material. But inherently Priscilla is incapable of being blatantly unfair to Elvis, because it is not his story. It is a rare cinematic encapsulation which includes the historic figure, but Elvis is not the center of attention. Even Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, which Coppola’s feature is faithfully based on, puts the internationally beloved singer’s name first. Between the covers, however, Elvis is merely a supporting character on page, and marginally supportive at best.

“What Grade Are You In?”

The most successful solo singer of the early rock and roll era, Elvis was always a divisive, and often derided, figure. Called out equally by racists and those who saw his music as cultural appropriation, the hip-swiveling, baritone-growling, song interpreter also divided generations. Thrust onto an easily-scandalized national TV viewership, Elvis was only allowed to be filmed from the waist up, lest his gyrations drive the assembled masses into a sexual frenzy. Even musicians balked at the charismatically rhythmic hillbilly when he first hit the scene. Frank Sinatra initially referred to Presley’s country boy brand of rock and roll as a “rancid aphrodisiac.”

Broadly accurate, and abridgedly fair, Priscilla isn’t for Elvis fans. His songs are not played. There is no representation of Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) in front of an audience. His onstage presence is offscreen. The audience hears only vague references to the periods depicted, and a fleeting mention of Col. Tom Parker. The universe revolves around Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny), and her rollercoaster relationship with the elusive cultural hero whose world engulfs her, to her initial delight.

Priscilla Ann Wagner was born in Brooklyn. Her father, Navy Pilot Lt. James Wagner, died in a plane crash when she was six months old. Her mother, Ann, married U.S. Air Force Officer Capt. Paul Bealieu, relocating frequently as his assignments warranted. Elvis was a national star by the age of 18, living in a bubble he didn’t know existed. There really were no rock stars before him, certainly of his magnitude. His situation was unprecedented. His status was unique. Elvis was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1958, a year-and-a-half after his world-rattling debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Priscilla and Elvis were introduced at a party in West Germany in 1959. Priscilla, an Army brat haltingly discovering teen rebellion, was 14. Elvis was 24.

The age gap is uncomfortably problematic, regardless of how it is spun. The romantically informed Priscilla frames the budding love story as an instantly recognizable rock era teenage fairytale, albeit the guitar interlude opens the path to the grim fable of a cautionary tale. The rock fan’s idolization is systematically guided. Awkward and innocent as it may appear, the protracted dance is an early grooming maneuver made to feel like a rite of passage. Fictionalized as it may be, the pattern is a fair representation of the trajectory. The rock star  groomed a young fan and increasingly controlled her behavior and social interactions, as Priscilla recounted in her memoir.

Never one to waste film stock on preamble, Coppola shrouds unspoken histories through subliminal audio and cultural clues. At their initial meeting, Presley is called to the piano to get the party started. He pounds out a raucously inviting rendition of “Whole Lotta Shakin’,” written by Jerry Lee Lewis, whose career derailed after marrying his underage cousin. The implications are vague but pointed.

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