Saturday, July 14, 2007

Elvis Movies: Change Of Habit

My mother loves Elvis Presely and his movies. She has them all on DVD or video, take your pick and she'll sit and watch them for hours on end. She's always tried to tell me how great they are, and, truth to be known, some aren't that bad, although I can reduce to her abuse and laughter by uttering one word: Clambake. The concert movies are watchable, and the first, pre-Army Elvis movies kind of work. Elvis movies reached their peak for me in his last one, Change Of Habit, where Mary Tyler Moore(!) played a nun who has to choose between the Church and Elvis, who plays a doctor. As if Mary as a nun didn't already spin you out - Elvis as a doctor? The mind boggles. You can imagine all the prescriptions that Elvis would be writing, not to mention how many times he'd be dipping into the drug cabinet. Self medication here we come!

As I recall it the movie wasn't much chop, just Elvis being Elvis, singing a couple of songs, always with that invisible band that used to back him, while Elvis held a guitar and some people in the background banged away on cardboard boxes. However it was the end that really made me laugh. If you've seen it then you'd have an idea as to what I mean, if not then you'll want to see it after reading this. You need to see it. At the end of the movie Tyler Moore's character, Sister Michelle, is having a conflict, and not just any conflict. She has to chose - the Almighty God or her love for a man, but not just any man, this is Elvis we're talking about. As we know Elvis is a religion unto himself. At the very end of the movie we see Sister Michelle praying for divine guidance at the alter when Elvis walks into her church. She looks up at the stained glass window of Jesus and sees that the halo is a bit dull - the light isn't all that bright. She turns to see Elvis standing at the back of the church with an open door behind him. The sun is streaming through behind him, giving him a lovely bright halo. She looks at Jesus again, looks at Elvis and...you never really know what she's going to do. I expect that she then abandons the church to worship at the Alter Of Elvis.

I laughed at that even at the age of 10. Yep, Elvis movies not only got worse as they went along, but they wasted an incredible amount of talent. Tyler Moore would go on to become a successful actor in her own right, with her own television show and an Oscar nomination for the movie Ordinary People and then there's Elvis of course. He might have been a laughing stock, but you can't deny he had talent. He just hid it well at this stage, but when you consider what he was dealing with, both professionally and personally, well I'm not surprised that he was drugged out for the most part. Even Peter Guralnick, in his brilliant book Careless Love, can't muster any form of enthusiasm for this movie, devoting about two paragraphs to it in a book that has over 650 pages. The best Guralnick can say is that one of Elvis's assistants felt that Elvis was 'listless in his approach'., Mind you Guralnick then goes on to suggest that Elvis was busy at the time with his co-star, if you get the drift.

If only Elvis had given up on the movies and decided to go back to stripped down rock and roll, ala that 1968 television special where he was in the black leathers sweating over everyone. There's people who live to study everything Elvis did, and they'll pull apart these movies and rant and rave on about the deep symbolism contained within them. What they're missing is that, by this stage, Elvis was only interested in getting the money, banging the co-star (unless it was Ethel Merman) and taking his drugs. Nothing else mattered. One viewing of this movie will tell you why.

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