Marking what would have been the 86th birthday of Elvis Presley, on 8 January 2021, CinePunked take a trip back to the 1950s with a discussion of Elvis’ screen career, iconic status, through arguably his most acclaimed film – King Creole.
Sleeve notes are below.
With Robert JE Simpson, and Ben Simpson.
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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=777446
And so we begin series 4 of the podcast with a brand new podcast, recorded and released in the week of Elvis Presley’s 86th birthday under lockdown conditions.
We start the new year with another episode featuring just Ben and myself. Rachael is still off on maternity, and while we hope to have her back for some recordings soon, the show must go on in her absence. Regular listeners might find it interesting to see how Ben has changed his approach since we first started recording the show. We’ve long said he serves as our substitute audience member when we’re away from the live events, and one that doesn’t have a film studies background. Like any of our students when Rachael and myself are teaching, I’m seeing the discussions take root – he’s running with tropes and themes, and the canon of films we’ve been building is feeding back into his references.
You can hear this yourself between his question in the last show about problematic personalities, and in this one, a surprise reference to Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life (which was the subject of our very first released pod). I like to think some of you at home are doing the same thing.
I’ve been looking to cover an Elvis film for a while. I’ve been unashamedly a fan of his performances since childhood, and his status not just as an icon performer of the 20th century, but also the star of a series of popular and profitable musical films throughout the 1960s. I don’t think its possible to talk about American popular culture without looking at Elvis.
I chose King Creole to build our conversation around because it properly bridges the musical and dramatic genres, and gives probably the best example of Presley’s promise as an actor – surrounded with a strong supporting cast (including Dean Jagger, Dolores Hart, Carolyn Jones and an early serious outing for Walter Matthau) and an accomplished director in Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca). This is Elvis before the army, before being sanitised, back when he was still seen as a dangerous influence on young Americans.
The conversation explores a little of his iconic status, and the importance of Presley as performer and screen actor, and ties it into a wider discussion of the teenage revolution of the 1950s. At times the discussion reads more like a study of Presley – in the mould of our conversation about Neil Innes last year – than the film.
As often happens, the conversation about the film revealed a more interesting narrative than either of us had expected. The broken individuals, relationships, depictions of disabilities and mental health, and grim underbelly make King Creole a much darker film than its jaunty soundtrack might have you think. Alongside linking connections to Neil Innes, Monty Python (I kid you not) and Its A Wonderful Life, there is also mention of A Touch of Evil, which I erroneously said came out the following year – in fact it went on release while King Creole was filming, in February 1958. Tonally there are parallels – something I’d like to look at again in future.
Hopefully the pod will help to bring out some new discussion points for those familiar with the film, and encourage those of you who don’t know Elvis’ screen output to give it a go.
This recording ended up being a marathon session. We’d finished, and doing the usual post-recording assessment, when Ben mentioned something we’d only brushed on in the discussion – the abusive relationships in the film – and ended up doing another 40 minute record – which we’ll be posting as a video exclusive bonus pod.
As indicated in the episode, listeners should detect connecting threads over the next few pods. Our next episode (which we recorded out of sequence, early in 2020) is being released to coincide with the 5th anniversary of David Bowie’s death and sees the team explore cult classic Labyrinth. Aside from both being 20th century icons, signed up to RCA Records, both stars celebrated their birthday on 8th January – and by a quirk of fate, this episode is debuting on that date.
The episode contains audio clips (used within fair use provision) from the following:
Jailhouse Rock (dir. Richard Thorpe, 1957). Distributed by MGM.
King Creole, original US theatrical trailer (1958)
King Creole (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1958). Distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Recorded during lockdown via Zoom in Comber and Newtownards, Northern Ireland on 4 January 2021 with our separate home studio setups.
Engineered by Ben Simpson & Robert Simpson. Edited by Robert JE Simpson and first published on 8 January 2021.