Malco's Karen Scott, the organizer of Memphis' first Graceland-approved Elvis film festival, being held August 11th at Malco's Paradiso, doesn't have any firsthand Elvis stories to relate. But her grandparents attended school with Presley, so she grew up hearing all about the boy-king. As a result, she's formed some pretty strong opinions concerning the relationship between Elvis and his hometown.
"The only way to know if somebody is a real Memphian," she says, "is to ask if they have an Elvis story. If you don't have an Elvis story, you can't be a real Memphian."
Scott wanted to put on an Elvis film festival since joining Malco in late 2003. The idea came to a head when she discovered that Hollywood Casino in Tunica had artifacts from Jailhouse Rock on display.
With Malco's support, Hollywood's sponsorship, and Graceland's blessing, the show was on. The lineup, Jailhouse Rock, Viva Las Vegas, and That's the Way It Is, features some of Elvis' most memorable screen moments.
In an interview with the Flyer last year, Ann-Margret said that Viva Las Vegas was the greatest rock-and-roll film of all time. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it's impossible to deny the heat generated between the sassy singing sex kitten and the original rocker. Viva Las Vegas' gratuitous "booty shots," filmed nearly 30 years before the video for "Baby Got Back," are also well ahead of their time.
When it comes to the spirit of early rock-and-roll, nothing can hold a candle to Jailhouse Rock. This is Elvis at his pre-Army best: sulking, snarling, and exploding like James Dean but with better dance moves. In Jailhouse Rock, Elvis plays a dangerous man with honorable intentions who learned to play a mean guitar during a stint in prison. Once he's sprung and his star is on the rise, driving ambition and greed threaten to destroy him. Scored by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jailhouse Rock's soundtrack is far superior to the second-rate pop songs that became the staple of later Elvis films.
That's the Way It Is captures Elvis in concert during a period of transition. He's entered the white jumpsuit period, but he's not yet given in to the kung fu dance moves. Fit and in top vocal form, Elvis, in this performance, is the perfect mix of Elvis -- The '68 Comeback Special fierceness and Aloha from Hawaii finesse.
No film festival is complete without at least one celebrity guest, and Celeste Yarnall will be available to sign autographs and talk to fans about her on-screen love affair with Elvis. For those who may not recognize the name, Yarnall was the 1960s actress and cover girl who saucily spurned Elvis' advances in 1968's Live a Little, Love a Little, the film that spawned the Billy Strange/Mac Davis song "A Little Less Conversation," which became the King's last charting single when it was remixed by Junkie XL in 2002.
Yarnall's story is like a page torn directly from the big book of Hollywood mythmaking. She was just walking through Tinsel Town one day, minding her own business, when she caught the eye of Ozzie and Rick Nelson, who invited the young stunner to appear on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet show. Her television appearances led to a role as a student in Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor, alongside such budding starlets as Stella Stevens and Julie Parrish. She would also star alongside Jack Lemmon in Under the Yum Yum Tree, Paul Newman in A New Kind of Love, and as part of the ensemble cast in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. But for all of these high-profile appearances, Yarnall is probably best known by Star Trek fans for her appearance as Yeoman Martha London, Ensign Chekov's love interest in "The Apple," an episode about repressed societies, environmental disaster, and the hazards of making a computer into a god.
Though not an official part of Malco's festival, there will also be screenings of the '68 Comeback and Aloha from Hawaii concert films August 7th-12th in the Walk a Mile in My Shoes Theater at Graceland.
Aloha from Hawaii captures, for better and worse, Elvis the icon. Here he is in 1973 in all of his sweaty, jumpsuited splendor, doing karate kicks and crooning his heart out. The magnificent vocal performances of "See See Rider," "Burning Love," and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" become inextricably tangled in the kitsch of "My Way," "Johnny B. Goode," and, of course, "The American Trilogy."
The '68 Comeback Special, originally titled Elvis, is everything anybody could ever want from the King. From un-self-conscious gut-bucket yowling and sexy moves to gentle whispers and unplugged instruments when unplugged instruments weren't cool, this concert film has it all. It proved beyond any doubt that Elvis, who had spent the better part of the 1960s as a prisoner to Hollywood, hadn't become musically irrelevant.
If you want to get your Elvis on without leaving home, Turner Classic Movies will be running Elvis films all day long on August 16th and 17th. The lineup features Live a Little, Love a Little; Stay Away, Joe; Follow That Dream; Kid Galahad; It Happened at the World's Fair; Kissin' Cousins; Girl Happy; Double Trouble; Jailhouse Rock; Viva Las Vegas; Elvis on Tour; Spinout; and Frankie and Johnny. n
Malco's Elvis Film Festival runs from 1 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, August 11th at Malco's Paradiso. Admission is $8 per film. For more information, check out Malco.com.