D on’t call Elvis a biopic. Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming film about the King of Rock ’n’ Roll — played by Austin Butler with Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley — is more about Elvis Presley’s role as an icon than it is about the man himself. In point of fact, Elvis’s music is reinterpreted throughout the movie, including in a rap remix of “Hound Dog” by Doja Cat.
“As it turns out, I’ve just made a film called Elvis which isn’t even really about Elvis,” Luhrmann told Sotheby’s. “It’s really about America in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Elvis was at the center of pop culture in all three decades — the good, the bad and the ugly.”
It makes sense, then, that Luhrmann would relate to Andy Warhol, whose own fascination with Elvis grew out of the artist’s obsession with the cult of celebrity. Warhol made a number of works appropriating a promotional photo of Elvis from the 1960 film Flaming Star. In a 1963 silkscreen from the series (he’d perfected this printing technique just one year earlier), he transposed the image on to a shimmering background recalling Hollywood’s silver screen.
The work is a paradigm of Pop Art — one icon depicting another.
That silkscreen is coming to auction next week as part of the Contemporary Evening Auction, where it’s expected to fetch between 15 and 25 million US dollars. (A double Elvis achieved over $37 million last May.) On the Wednesday evening before the auction, Luhrmann was the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Sotheby’s, where he rubbed elbows with stars like Tessa Thompson, Kevin Love and Ferdinando Verderi.
Elvis Presley and Warhol's Fascination with the Cult of Celebrity
“My film is also about the relationship between the grand sell and one of the other great things about America: the brand new.”
“My film is also about the relationship between the grand sell and one of the other great things about America: the brand new,” the Australian filmmaker said. “That conflict and tension is something Andy Warhol really understood — so much so that he was quite ironic about the way he flipped the relationship between art and commerce.”
The image of Elvis that Warhol used came from a critical flop — Elvis’s years as an actor are often considered a low point of his career. Yet Warhol’s pictures of the musician are now among his best-known works, catapulting his gun-slinging persona into the zeitgeist even decades later.
“How interesting it is that Warhol took what we now perceive to be a cheesy film,” Luhrmann said, “and made it iconic.”
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks and Olivia DeJonge, hits theaters on 24 June, 2022.