Independent Lens: The King

Independent Lens: The King

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 9:00pm - 10:00pm

Pictured: The Handsome Family in Albuquerque

Credit: Courtesy of David Kuhn

Forty years after the death of Elvis Presley, two-time Sundance Grand Jury winner Eugene Jarecki takes the King’s 1963 Rolls-Royce on a musical road trip across America.

From Tupelo to Memphis to New York, Las Vegas, and countless points between, the journey explores the rise and fall of Elvis as a metaphor for the country he left behind. What emerges is a visionary portrait of the state of the American dream and a penetrating look at how the hell we got here. The King, an Independent Lens presentation premieres Monday, January 28, 2019 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

Far more than a musical biopic, The King is a snapshot of America at a critical time in the nation’s history. Tracing Elvis’ life and career from his birth and meteoric rise in the deep south to his tragic and untimely end in Hollywood and Las Vegas, The Kingcovers a vast distance across contemporary America, painting a parallel portrait of the nation’s own heights and depths, from its inspired origins to its perennial struggles with race, class, power, and money.

Over thousands of miles, a diverse group of passengers join the journey, including Alec Baldwin, Rosanne Cash, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, James Carville, Ashton Kutcher, David Simon, Van Jones, Mike Myers, and Dan Rather, among others. “We wanted the film’s cast of characters to reflect the rich tapestry of the American family, expressing themselves in words and, at times, in song inside Elvis’ Rolls,” said Jarecki. “The King is both an Elvis film and a film about the American experience, so we chose people who could speak to either of these in a deep and authentic way.”

Weaving the sights and sounds of Elvis’ own music and films with soaring live performances from artists as varied as teen Nashville phenomenon EmiSunshine, Mississippi bluesman Leo Bud Welch, New York City rapper Immortal Technique, the cool West Coast sounds of M. Ward, and the gospel stylings of Memphis’s Stax Music Academy, The King opens the door to a deeper, more complex discourse on America’s identity and path forward.