ELVIS’ ROLLS ROYCE ROAD TRIP

In search of the American dream from inside Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce, we take a look at the highs and lows of American culture.

For more information on “The King,” click here. 

Aired on January 28, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> WHEN ELVIS PRESLEY FIRST BURST UPON THE SCENE, HE WAS A FORCE OF NATURE, A MUSICAL SENSATION WHOSE BLEND OF COUNTRY, POP, R&B EARNED HIM THE TITLE OF THE KING OF ROCK 'N ROLL.

NOW IN A REAL DOCUMENTARY APTLY TITLED 'THE KING' AWARD WINNING FILMMAKER EUGENE JUREKI IN HIS 1965 ROLLS-ROYCE AND IF TOM V.

HE GIVES US A ONCE IN A LIFETIME RIDE IN A TRULY UNIQUE VIEW OF THE KING AND OF AMERICA.

HERE IS A LOOK.

YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF HOW HARD IT IS TO GET AMERICAN COACHES.

THE GUY HAD IT ALL.

RICH, FAMOUS.

EVERY CHANCE HE PRIORITIZED MONEY.

AND WHERE DID IT PUT HIM?

DEAD AND FAT ON THE TOILET AT 42.

HE IS A LIVING METAPHOR OF THE AMERICAN STORY.

YOU WORK HARD, YOU CAN GET AHEAD.

THIS COUNTRY IS SO MUCH MORE COMPLEX THAN WE THOUGHT.

THE KING.

PART OF INDEPENDENT LENS ON PBS.

AND JOINING US NOW IS THE DIRECTOR OF 'THE KING', EUGENE JURECKI.

GREAT TO HAVE YOU WITH US HERE.

GREAT TO BE HERE.

MOST OF THE VIEWERS OF 'THE KING' SEEM TO AGREE THAT THE FILM IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT ELVIS OR NOT JUST ABOUT ELVIS, BUT ABOUT ELVIS AS A METAPHOR FOR AMERICA.

DO THEY HAVE IT RIGHT?

I THINK SO.

I MEAN, THAT'S HOW WE REALLY ENVISIONED WHAT WE WERE DOING.

I SAW IN ELVIS PRESLEY A METAPHOR OF THE AMERICAN DREAM ITSELF.

WHO MORE CLOSELY REPRESENTS THE AMERICAN DREAM THAN THIS COUNTRY BOY WHO CAME OUT OF NOWHERE AND BECAME THE KING.

HE BECAME THE HIGHEST OF THE HIGH.

AND SO IN THAT SENSE HE REPRESENTS THE AMERICAN DREAM AS WE THINK OF IT IN THE BEST OF TERMS.

BUT OF COURSE AMERICA IS GOING THROUGH A LOT OF CONVULSION TODAY ABOUT WHO WE ARE, LOOK DEEPLY INWARD.

AND I THINK ELVIS, IT'S NECESSARY TO LOOK AT HIM AGAIN.

NOT SORT OF CRITICALLY OR MEAN-SPIRITEDLY.

IT'S ACTUALLY A VERY BIG LOVE LETTER, THIS FILM TO ELVIS.

IT CARES THAT ELVIS DIED YOUNG, WAS KILLED AND WAS DESTROYED BY THE VERY FORCES THAT MADE HIM GREAT.

I THINK IT'S A VERY AMERICAN STORY TOO.

YOU WOULD SAY THAT THE PARALLELS BETWEEN ELVIS AND AMERICA ARE THE RISE AND THE FALL OF ELVIS.

AND THE RISE AND PERHAPS THE FALL OF AMERICA.

A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE FILM THINK THAT AMERICA IS ON A DOWNWARD DIRECTORY.

VAN JONES, FOR EXAMPLE.

SURE.

LOOK AT IT.

ELVIS BURSTS ON THE SCENE IN THE WORLD AND HE TAKES THE WORLD BY STORM JUST LIKE THE YOUNG AMERICA DID WHEN AMERICA CAME OUT OF NOWHERE AND SHOOK OFF THE COBWEBS OF A FORMER WORLD.

AND THEN HE ROSE AND WE ROSE.

AND HE FOUND HIMSELF LIKE AMERICA ASTRIDE THE GLOBE WITH THIS COLOSSUS IN HIS HAND.

HE WAS UNPREPARED FOR IT JUST AS AMERICA IS UNPREPARED FOR THE SORT OF GLOBAL LEADERSHIP WE HAVE.

WHAT DO WE DO?

WE TURN TO ALL KINDS OF QUICK FENCES TO MEND THE GROWING FRACTURES IN THE SOUL.

IN ELVIS' CASE, THAT WAS DRUG, CONSUMPTION, MATERIALISM, VIOLENCE, VANITY.

THOSE WERE ALL THE THINGS YOU WOULD DESCRIBE AS MODERN AFFLICTIONS IN AMERICA.

I THINK WE SAW HOW IT ENDED FOR ELVIS.

I DON'T WANT TO SEE THE COUNTRY GO DOWN THAT SLIPPERY SLOPE.

SO I'M HERE TO START OF STEP NND AND CALL FOR SOUL-SEARCHING.

IN THIS TRIP ON THE ROLLS-ROYCE, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS IDEA?

WELL, TO BE FAIR, I WASN'T REALLY MAKING A FILM THAT HAD ELVIS' ROLLS-ROYCE IN IT.

I WAS MAKING A MEDITATIVE FILM ABOUT ELVIS AND AMERICA.

AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A VERY POETIC FILM WITH A LOT OF LUMINARY PEOPLE IN IT.

YOU CAN'T MAKE A FILM ABOUT ELVIS IN AMERICA WITHOUT HIS FRIENDS, FAMILY AND LOVED ONES, HEARTBROKEN ACROSS THE COUNTRY ARE DOING.

AND LIKE CHUCK DEAN, YOU CAN'T MAKE A FILM ABOUT ELVIS IN AMERICA WITHOUT HAVING THE AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE ABOUT WHAT ELVIS MEANS IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY.

WE WERE THERE TO MAKE THE DEFINITIVE FILM ON THE MEANING OF ELVIS IN AMERICA WHEN HALFWAY THROUGH THE PRODUCTION PROCESS I LEARNED THAT ELVIS'S 1963 ROLLS-ROYCE WAS COMING UP FOR AUCTION.

THEY ALLOWED US TO USE THE CAR.

WE USED THE CAR AND RESTORED IT AT THE END AND SOLD IT IN A SYMBOLIC WAY AND THAT BECAME ANOTHER PART OF THE STORY.

ONE OF THE IMPORTANT THEMES IN THE FILM IS THE ISSUE OR -- IT'S THE ISSUE OF CULTURAL APPROPRIATION.

YES.

AND THE CHARGE WHAT ELVIS WAS A CULTURAL APPROPRIATOR, BECAUSE HE REACHED HIS FAME AFTER HE TOOK ON THE AFRICAN AMERICAN SOUNDS OF HIS YOUTH AND MADE THEM HIS.

YES.

DO YOU THINK THAT HE WAS A CULTURAL APPROPRIATOR?

NO, I DON'T THINK SO.

I TAKE MY CUE IN THIS FROM CHUCK DEAN.

HE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INTERVIEW IN THE FILM AND HE IS STUNNINGLY INTELLIGENT AND ALSO EMOTIONALLY AND SORT OF PHILOSOPHICALLY INTELLIGENT.

WHAT HE SAYS IS WHEN ELVIS PLAYED BLACK MUSIC AT THAT TIME IN THE 1950s, THAT WAS AN INCREDIBLY COURAGEOUS AND BRAVE THING TO DO.

THAT'S THE SHARING OF CULTURE.

YOU WOULDN'T TELL A YOUNG AFRICAN AMERICAN KID NOT TO PLAY MOZART BECAUSE IT'S NOT AUSTRIAN ROOTS.

YOU WANT TO BE HAVING US ALL SHARE EACH OTHER'S MUSIC, EACH OTHER'S FOOD.

WE'D HAVE A LOT LESS WAR IF WE ALL KNEW EACH OTHER'S CULTURE AND SHARED EACH OTHER'S SORT OF GLORY MORE.

BUT I DO THINK THAT HE MISSED A TRICK THERE WHERE, YOU KNOW, MARLON BRANDO, JANE FOND.

CHARLTON HESTON.

HE STOOD BY THE BLACK COMMUNITY AND THE BLACK COMMUNITY NEEDED THEM AND ELVIS PRESLEY WASN'T THERE FOR THEM AT AN INTERPERSONAL LEVEL.

HE HAD A LOT OF BLACK FRIENDS.

THAT IS NOT THE LEVEL.

AS AN INTERNATIONAL ICON, THE MOST ICAHN AT THE TIME, HE WAS GLARINGLY ABSENT FROM THE ACTIVITIES THAT OTHERS WERE DEEPLY INVOLVED IN.

ALL RIGHT, EUGENE, WE'LL HAVE TO END IT THERE.

IT'S A FASCINATING FILM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT IT.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

'THE KING' PREMIERS ON PBS ON MONDAY, JANUARY 28th AT 9:00 P.M.

FOR ADDITIONAL AIR TIMES AND OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT 'METROFOCUS'.COM.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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