Triple Elvis: Baz Lurhmann 2022 / Ed Sullivan 1956-57 / Comeback Special 1968
Last fall, the director Baz Luhrmann asked me to write a short piece for a “Writers on Writers” feature in Variety. I’d loved his film of The Great Gatsby; I was happy to do it, even though, when I’d first watched his new Elvis, it seemed to fade when Elvis got out of the Army. I watched it again: no, it played to its own rhythm all the way through. What I came up with, a bare three paragraphs—the word limit was 250—reminded me of two other pieces. In 2006, I’d been asked by the producer Andrew Solt, who I’d worked with years before, to write notes to a DVD set collecting the whole of each of the Ed Sullivan Shows on which Elvis appeared in 1956 and 1957. It was fascinating to watch, to catch all the odd little touches and metaphors sprinkled through the shows to pretend what was happening wasn’t. Earlier, in 2004, I was asked to write notes to a tremendous DVD package drawn from and around Elvis’s 1968 The Singer Special (named for the sponsor, not the subject), known forever after as the ’68 Comeback Special. It really was an epic; with little more than a thousand words there was no way I was going to catch up with it, but I had to try. I asked for two copies: through his friend Amy Tan, I sent one to Bill Clinton. “You really got him!” he wrote back. I put his letter in a folder with an earlier reply, a long response to one I’d sent him about the vagueness of his words and actions as president, up to the point of his speech in Oklahoma City days after the bombing in 1995, also through Amy, to bypass the White House response bureaucracy (I’d also sent that letter as a regular citizen too, and got back a form letter: “Thank you for your support,” though I’d been as critical as I could). From 1988, a time when Ronald Reagan was still the president, no one outside of Arkansas had heard of Bill Clinton, and Atlantic Records was signing the worst bands in the world, including, presumably because Foreigner was such a hit, any group with a name beginning with F, the folder was for a hair-farm band called Dear Mr. President. I treasured it. It disappeared when we moved from Berkeley to Oakland in 2011 and I haven’t seen it since. Dear Mr. President were never heard from again.
Writer: Baz Luhrmann
From “Writers on Writers: Scribes Praise 2022’s Top Films Including ‘Tár’ and ‘The Woman King,” Variety, December 22, 2022 (unedited)
“His White Noise is a credible adaptation and a notably faithful one,” the critic A. O. Scott wrote recently about the writer-director Noah Baumbach’s film of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel. “Very little has been added.” Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?