Saturday, August 05, 2006

Viva Elvis

Today I went to an Elvis movie festival in Syracuse to do a profile on Trina Creighton, who started a belly-dancing troupe to '50s and '60s music. While "working," I also got to enjoy some Elvis films. Here is what I thought about the day:

The first film was "Tickle Me," but unfortunately, I was only able to watch the beginning before doing my interviews. It looks like a very cute movie, so hopefully I can see it sometime.

Then there was a performance by Elvis impersonator, Sammy J. I must say I was dissapointed. He wasn't so much an impersonator as a man dressed as Elvis and singing Elvis songs. Dante, who is in arts journalism with me, got it right when he described Sammy J as a "B-movie Elvis impersonator." For one song, "Little Sister," Belly Be-Bop, the dancing troupe, joined him onstage. They did an impressive job for their first performance and I was surprised at how well belly-dancing goes with Elvis music. The way they move their hips and arms is similar to the twist and other dances from that era. The highlight of the set was when Sammy J gave me one of his yellow scarfs. I felt like a groupie.

"Viva Las Vegas" was the only one of the three movies that I was able to see in its entirety. It is a typical Technicolor sixties musical, complete with a pool scene in which Elvis sings to Ann-Margret while she is changing out of her bathing-suit. Classic. The film is worth seeing if nothing else than for the chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret.

The second Sammy J set was better than the first. He does a good job of getting the audience into it and they all seemed to love him. Belly Be-Bop improvised a few numbers with him, and having interviewed Trina before the show, I knew they weren't planning on doing this. The improvised numbers were just as good as the choreographed ones, especially "Fever." For this number they danced around Sammy J and it ended up looking really sexy. The highlight of this set was that Belly Be-Bop changed into poodle skirts while keeping the rest of their traditional outfits on. I think they should have used that costume the whole time as it represents the combination of American Tribal Style with rock and roll. Not to mention poodle skirts are cute.

I missed part of "Jailhouse Rock" because of interviews, but I loved what I saw. Elvis plays a James Dean-type in this relatively dark musical. His acting was by far better in this movie than in the other two. I know this movie has gotten criticized for its script, but I thought it was good for an Elvis movie with its bleak undercurrents about the music industry and success.

All in all, it was a fun day. Although Elvis is a better singer than he is an actor, seeing these movies made me like him more (and I liked him a lot already).

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