Director Eugene Jarecki (Freakonomics, Reagan) had a premise for film that would compare the rise and fall of Elvis Presley with the rise and fall of the United States. He had already begun work on the movie when a crew member told him that a Rolls-Royce that belonged to Presley was going to auction. Inspired, Jarecki bought the car and turned his film, which he subsequently called The King, into a thrilling road movie that documents Presley's career.
The film includes interviews with celebs such as Alec Baldwin, Rosanne Cash, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, Van Jones, Mike Myers and Dan Rather. The movie also features performances by Emi Sunshine and the Rain, Leo Bud Welch, Earlice Taylor, Stax Music Academy Singers, M. Ward, John Hiatt, Loveful Heights, Immortal Technique, the Handsome Family, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Justin Merrick and the Stax Academy All-Stars. It opens at the Cedar Lee Theatre on Friday.
"We wanted to visit the places Elvis had been and see them through the prism of Elvis' life," Jarecki says in a recent phone interview. "Cars are memory lane machines. They're American-dream machines and fuel nostalgia for the past. The Rolls represents how Elvis left behind the country boy of his past. He's now a king. Now, you have the bigger question of whether a country boy should have ever become a king. We can also wonder should the country have become an empire? One became a king and one became an empire, both to their own detriment."
Jarecki visits Sun Studios in Memphis and Las Vegas, and the well-crafted film features beautiful shots of both the countryside and of the poor neighborhoods where Presley grew up.
"The film is a love letter to America and to Elvis," says Jarecki. "It's a tough love letter. I care about those things enough that I want to make a difference. If I had known Elvis, I would have tried to save him. As I get to know America and travel the country, I feel the same impulse. In order to do that, I have to convey my incredible love of the cities, of the grandeur of its people, of its monuments, of its small towns and farms, and forsaken inner cities. I have that Life Magazine love of America."