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“Elvis” vs. “Priscilla”: Which film depicts the King of Rock and Roll the best? (Op-Ed)

The undisputed King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley’s life and musical career have been the subject of intense interest and scrutiny for decades since his death in 1977.

Most recently, major motion pictures “Elvis” and “Priscilla”, released in 2022 and 2023 respectively, have provided two very different interpretations of the late star’s life and personal relations. 

“Elvis”, directed by Baz Luhrmann, takes on a nearly Broadway-esque storytelling technique for Presley. The film incorporates fantastical elements and highly detailed musical numbers throughout the film, told from the perspective of Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The brightness and intense emotion from the scenes is in line with Luhrmann’s previous works such as “The Great Gatsby” or “Moulin Rouge”, taking works of fiction with historical accuracy and turning them into a true spectacle. 

“Elvis” essentially sensationalizes Presley’s life, uplifting him as a musical legend that permanently changed the face of music. While this may be true, the film tends to gloss over and neglect the more controversial aspects of Presley’s life that affected his family, health, and public image. While there is incorporation of these issues into the plot,  his prescription drug abuse, grooming behavior towards Priscilla, and adultery take a back seat to the flash and glam of the film, cementing him as an idol.

On the other hand, “Priscilla”, directed by Sofia Coppola, exudes a much more somber, traditional tone as it emulates the perspective of Presley’s wife, Priscilla Presley. 

“Priscilla” focuses more on the star’s life as seen through the eyes of Presley’s wife, allowing the viewer to have a front row seat towards Presley’s complicated and problematic personality. While his musical career is still integrated into the film’s plot, the film focuses more on the romantic relationship and marriage between the two, especially their initial whirlwind romance, highly publicized union, and breakdown of trust towards the end of Presley’s life. The film, inspired by Presley’s own memoir “Elvis and Me”, takes on a more realistic and historically accurate approach to the life of the King from one of the closest perspectives possible. This matches Coppola’s directorial style as well, as her previous works focus on the stories of female independence.

When the inevitable question arises on which film was better, more creative, more accurate, or more entertaining, there’s no true or objectively right answer, as the films exist to tell two different sides of the same story. Neither is going to be completely accurate, and creative liberties will be taken to create the most engaging story possible. What’s important is making sure to know the difference between a biopic, a documentary, and an original story made for the screen when forming these opinions.

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