The audience at the Cannes Film Festival was trembling for Austin Butler as the King in Baz Luhrmann’s world premiere of “Elvis.”
The film received an extraordinary 12-minute standing ovation, the longest of this year’s festival so far.
As the the cheers went on and on, a teary-eyed butler hugged an equally-emotional Priscilla Presley, who flew to the South of France to give her blessing for the movie about her late husband.
The Warner Bros. musical drama had Cannes spontaneously erupting into applause as Butler recreated some of Presley’s greatest hits including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Suspicious Minds.”
“Elvis” is one of the biggest titles to screen at Cannes, with a star-studded carpet that included Sharon Stone, Shakira, Kylie Minogue, Diplo, Jeremy O. Harris and Italian rock band Måneskin.
It wasn’t only celebrity power lighting up the red carpet, either: Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav ditched his Sun Valley uniform of chinos and tech vests and cleaned up in black tie — slicking his hair behind the ear, perhaps as an homage to the King. The mogul walked the stairs with super producer Gail Berman, who shepherded Luhrmann’s latest, and was seated in the auditorium beside Butler’s girlfriend, model Kaia Gerber. Warner Bros. Pictures Group boss Toby Emmerich was also part of the executive group on the ground.
At the film’s lush after-party, Zaslav was taken back by the reception to the film. Hey told Variety that the evening prior, Butler screened the film for the first time, with girlfriend Gerber, and both were in tears.
The audience at the Palais was particularly enamored with actor Alton Mason, who plays Little Richard. In an earlier scene where Presley parties with fellow legend BB King, newcomer Mason dazzled with a performance of “Tutti Frutti,” complete with acrobatic dance moves. Mason, who began as a model and dancer, earned mid-screening applause.
With the audience still on its feet, Luhrmann hugged his cast members and was clearly moved by the audience’s warm reception of “Elvis.” Taking the mike while brushing tears from his eyes, he recalled his first experience in Cannes for “Strictly Ballroom.”
“I’ve had a bit of an epiphany because 30 years ago, my wife and I made a little film called ‘Strictly Ballroom,’ but on our film we had one exhibitor who gave us one screen, and he saw the film and he left before it finished and said, ‘That is the worst film I have ever seen and you have ruined the career of [Pat Thomson],’ who played the mother.”
Luhrmann continued: “Anyway, we went up the coast and I had very long hair and we were staying in a trailer park and I was saying, ‘This film thing is never going to work out,’ so I started shaving my hair off. And I got a call on the telephone and it was a French man, and I was holding a tin bucket above my head because the night before someone had been killed by a coconut that fell out of a tree. And on the phone, a voice said, ‘Hello, my name is [former festival director] Pierre Rissient, I am from the Cannes Film Festival, and we have seen your film and we would like to offer you a 12 o’clock screening in the Palais’…And at the end of the [screening in Cannes]I remember a security guard came over…and he grabbed me and said, ‘Monsieur, from this moment, your life will never be the same again.’”
As he embraced current festival director Thierry Fremaux, Luhrmann said that when COVID hit and “Elvis” was shut down, it felt like it was “never going to happen.”
“But for the bravery of [Tom Hanks] to come back, and the bravery of this cast and this crew, to go on through COVID and to finish this film, and we are back in Cannes, and to see these streets so full of people who love movies, of every form of life and every background and every kind of movie, there’s so much more about what this place means and what it means to be back in the cinema. And for that, we are eternally grateful, Cannes. All I can say is: Merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup, merci beaucoup.”
Luhrmann’s films are often over-the-top and extravagant affairs, which is exactly the vibe Warner Bros. brought to the director’s “Elvis” world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The studio surprised premiere attendees with a concert on the beach following the film’s debut screening.
Luhrmann introduced guest DJ Diplo, who debuted an original song from the “Elvis” soundtrack featuring Swae Lee and Butler. Italian glam rock band and Eurovision winner Måneskin also performed its single from the soundtrack at the Majestic beach club bash, where Butler and Gerber danced the night away.
Also present at the party was an ambassador from the Walt Disney Company, Peter Rice, chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content. He tipped his hat to Warner Bros. and liked the film to “an aria.”
The performance was preceded by an electrifying drone show with lights outlining Elvis’ figure, name and motto TCB, accompanied by music.
“Elvis” marks Luhrmann’s first feature directorial effort since 2013’s “The Great Gatsby,” which also world premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Butler stars in the title role opposite Tom Hanks as Elvis’ infamous manager Colonel Tom Parker; Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla; recent “The Power of the Dog” Oscar nominee Kodi Smit-McPhee as country legend Jimmie Rodgers; Yola Quartey as Sister Rosetta Tharpe; and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as BB King.
Prior to the “Elvis” world premiere at Cannes, the movie earned rave reviews from three of the music icon’s family members: Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, and granddaughter Riley Keough. Lisa Marie called the film “nothing short of spectacular,” adding, “Austin channeled and embodied my father’s heart and soul beautifully. In my humble opinion, his performance is unprecedented and finally done accurately and respectfully. If he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, I will eat my own foot.”
Keough told Variety at Cannes that she started crying within the first five minutes of watching “Elvis,” adding: “I could feel how much work Baz and Austin put into trying to get it right. That made me emotional immediately…I felt honored they worked so hard to really get his essence, to feel his essence. Austin captured that so beautifully.”
Warner Bros. is opening “Elvis” in US theaters on June 24. The film joined “Top Gun: Maverick” as the two Hollywood tentpoles to world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
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