Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Review of Joel Gilbert's ELVIS FOUND ALIVE

In 2010, Joel Gilbert set out to prove that Paul McCartney is dead.  Now, with Elvis Found Alive, he sets out to prove that the King of Rock and Roll isn’t.

Actually, proving that seems to have been the easy part.  In the film’s first few minutes, with nothing more than a box of heavily but insufficiently redacted Freedom of Information documents, Gilbert and his film crew trace Elvis Presley to a modest, suburban home in which he has apparently been living for quite some time under his longtime alias “Jon Burrows.” 

What was probably hard was verifying the details that the interview subsequently granted by the outed Presley.  Speaking in shadowed profile (the better to protect the anonymity he has been enjoying as a member of the federal Witness Protection Program), Presley supplies a two-hour narrative rife with so many cultural and political footnotes that only an intrepid and indefatigable researcher could have fact-checked them all.

About half of Presley’s tale, the part covering his official lifespan, will be familiar to most rock-and-roll fans.  The latter half, however, not only connects many well-known Presley dots (his incessant performing and Col. Parker’s gambling debts, his Memphis Mafia and the actual Mafia, his identification with Captain Marvel, Jr., and his choice of stage apparel) but also supplies many new and even more explosive ones, including but not limited to Presley’s role in Bob Dylan’s conversion to Christianity, his role in stopping the Weather Underground, his failure to stop the ascension of either its leader Bill Ayers or Ayer’s close friend, Barack Obama (or, as Presley prefers to call him, “Barry Soetoro”), and the conditions under which he’ll make yet another comeback.

But for all of the answers that the film supplies, it raises at least one troubling question.  Present among Gilbert’s crew is the actress Celeste Yarnall, Presley’s co-star in his 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little, and her on-camera reunion with her former screen partner is touching indeed.  Unfortunately, no one asks her why on July 2, 2010, she married a man named “Nazim Artist.” 

In light of his declaration at one point in Elvis Found Alive that Presley considers himself Jewish, it’s a question that someone--perhaps Gilbert in his next documentary--should definitely investigate. 

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