Despite what the title and poster would have you believe, this film actually isn’t about Elvis impersonators at all.
Kidding. Of course it is.
Dir. John Paget, 2001, 66 min
There are many things I do not understand, but I am willing to learn about all of them. Documentaries are perhaps the perfect tool for this. I may look askance at someone who dresses up and acts like Elvis for a living, but I’d love to learn about why they do what they do. Unfortunately, Almost Elvis failed to illuminate this world for me; at most, the movie helped my eyes adjust slightly.
Just what is it about Elvis, anyway? There are other famed musicians whom people will go out of their way to impersonate. I’ve passed numerous Michael Jacksons on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But no one, as far as I know, makes a living acting like Michael Jackson, getting paid for engagements the way that an Elvis impersonator can (I suspect there would be legal action if someone, um, properly impersonated Jackson). So why is there a demand for men to deck themselves in layers of rhinestones, coif their hair with generous amounts of grease, and put on a silly “uh-huh-huh” affectation?
Is it simply because he was the first rock-and-roller (you know, besides those black guys whose style he ripped off)? Are his gyrating hips so inextricably lodged in the sexual subconscious of millions of baby boomer women, that they still have a fix for it that must be satisfied? I don’t think his music’s so hot, so I don’t get the fuss. But I’m a musical ignoramus, and can’t evaluate those qualities. That was the burning question in my mind throughout this movie: why? It is observational but never introspective. The breadth of its evaluation is people saying that Elvis means a lot to them. But that’s the documentary equivalent of telling without showing, which is death in any dramatic art.
The doc follows several Elvis impersonators competing in the ultimate lookalike competition, held in Memphis (0f course). It also looks into the business of Elvis impersonation, which, oddly enough, turned out to be the most compelling part. I had no idea that it was so expensive to be a “good” impersonator. Those tacky rhinestones? They can cost up to two dollars. Each.
It’s also darkly hilarious how similar an Elvis impersonator company is to prostitution. In fact, I’m 90% sure that, were you to find an out-of-context clip from this film of the woman who runs such a business, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether she’s talking about Elvis impersonators or male escorts. And then, just to drive my point home, one of the impersonators admits to being a former stripper.
That, sadly, is the most memorable thing about any of the main characters here. Sure, occasionally you feel a brief pang of sympathy for them, such as when watching one at his real job as a janitor. But mostly they’re just talking about how much they love Elvis. And it’s just so boring.
Almost Elvis either proves that some subjects aren’t good enough for a documentary or is simply a very bad film about its subject. I suspect the former, since there’s no way there isn’t a good movie to be made about guys in loud outfits singing poor imitations of a man who died on the toilet thirty-five years ago (Did that make you feel old, baby boomers? It probably did). This just isn’t that movie.
By the way, I already feel bad about the Michael Jackson joke. Not badly enough to remove it, but still.