A Celebration (Images of Elvis Presley from the Elvis Presley Archive
London: Dorling Kinderlsey, 2002.
£25.00, 612 pages, ISBN 0-5513-7340-0.
Université de Rouen
Elvis: A Celebration is a pictorial tribute. Indeed, it is
a portable altar to the star, in the strongest sense of the word star,
as defined by Edgar Morin or more recently Richard Dyer, the star
as divine being, complete with vivacious cult, temple (Graceland),
and worshippers (millions of diehard fans throughout the world).
This book packs 612 pages of photographs, very little text (the captions
and introductions / different eras are well-researched and straight
to the point), 2.7 kilos of pure scopophiliac pleasure: Elvis at two,
Elvis at five, at six, ten, eleven, with blond hair. A couple of school
pictures, and then we move on to Elviss teens, and marvel at
the growth of the sideburns and the soon-to-be trademark quiff (still
brown). We quickly reach the mid-fifties and the Sun Studios period,
and soon behold Elvis with a guitar, Elvis with Bill Haley, or Elvis
with deeply-stirred fans. Page 68 is a portrait of the 1955 William
Speer series: half-naked sex symbol Elvis, looking much more like
a Hollywood hunk than a Southern rocker, smoldering eyes and Bardot
Judging by the pictures, it is in 1956 that Elvis discovered he could
dye his hair raven black. He very rarely returned to brown. Around
1956 too, the quiff began occasionally evolving into a pompadour.
The movie pictures that follow remind the reader of that inescapable
fact: the King never made an acceptable movie in his entire career.
This, in my opinion, is the best way to watch a Presley Hollywood
vehicle: sit quietly at home with adequate food and drink provisions,
play your DVD or VHS tape and turn off the volume of your TV set;
play digitally remastered fifties recordings of the heartthrobs
biggest classics on your CD player. When he launches into song in
the movie, pump up the volume of your TV set and silence the CD player
for the duration of the musical number. It helps to own remote control
devices in good working condition. I know this will shock the purists.
The entire filmography is hopeless, but it does not in the least mean
that you should deprive yourself of the opportunity of gazing at the
Presley magic at work: he moves, he walks, he smiles, he occasionally
gyrates his hips.
In 1958, of course, Elvis the Pelvis was drafted. The draft
into the US army could have been a disaster for Elvis Presleys
career, writes Evans, but the combination of a backlog
of records and films to keep the fans happy, and the positive press
he would receive in doing his duty like any other GI,
ensured that his time in the Army provided him with an even higher
public profile than before his recruitment.  The army pictures
are funny and strangely moving at the same time. Elvis is seen wearing
all sorts of military uniforms, with all sorts of caps (the forage
cap is my all time favorite).
Page 323 features the photograph of Elvis as a cowboy from
Flaming Star (1960), standing straight with his legs apart,
holding a gun in his right hand. I wonder if the Hollywood studio
executives realized the camp implications of the enterprise in general,
and of the movies title in particular. Andy Warhol certainly
did. He used that posed studio photograph as the basis of his pop-artization
of the King in 1964. In the sixties, Elviss cheeks began to
fill out. That did not stop him from posing for hundreds of movie-related
pictures that uncannily evoke other icons: there is Elvis as John
Wayne, Elvis as Steve McQueen, Elvis as Marlon Brando, even, famously,
Elvis as Clint Eastwood in Charro! (1968).
The Priscilla wedding pictures, pages 384 to 389, make you wonder
how that extraordinarily dated face ended up looking as it did in
Dallas a million years later. Priscillas bouffant hair
is a scream in the birth-of-Lisa-Marie Photoplay shots. From
1970, Elviss hair is far too long, and his sideburns, wide as
freeways, eat up his face. But who, among those of us old enough to
have chosen our own clothing in the seventies, can boast of having
entirely avoided the summits of dorkiness that were then
reached? Even those who followed every trend of the past four decades
and proudly survived them turn the pages of their photo albums twice
as fast when they get to the tight shirts with the enormous collars
and the Elvis Ray-bans.
Elvis: A Celebration is a perfect gift for fans and Cultural
Studies specialists alike. The book draws to a close, inevitably,
with the bloated Las Vegas Elvis of the end: puffy face, hairy chest
and stage ruby-studded costumes that out-Liberaced Liberace. But Evans
has wisely limited the number of these pictures. The last image, I
am glad to write, is a glamorous 1956 Love Me Tender pose.
It is followed by interesting facts, figures, and statistics
on the life of Elvis. I hope I shall be forgiven for the following
clichéd conclusion to my review: Elvis Presley died twenty-five
years ago. The King is dead, long live the King!