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In researching Elvis Presley for his biopic Elvis, director Baz Luhrmann made some interesting correlations between Presley and the music he influenced. Presley’s suggestive way he moved on stage broke every music industry rule early in his career. Luhrmann admits that wasn’t the only way Elvis Presley smashed barriers in the industry, calling him “the original punk.”

Elvis Presley poses in a scene still from the film Girls, Girls, Girls.
Elvis Presley | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Elvis Presley introduced the blues to a white audience

Presley found his early influences in the music he heard both in church and played on his local radio station.

From his home in Tupelo, MS, Presley listened to radio station WDIA. The station played records of hometown bluesmen. It featured Dewey Phillips’s Red Hot and Blue program that showcased the recordings of black artists.

However, during these formative years, Presley also learned of the music of B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, and Big Memphis Ma Rainey. This music, fused with early rock and roll tunes, created a sound Presley adopted as his own.

In Elvis, Luhrmann shows how influenced Presley was by these musicians and the gospel tunes of his local church.

Baz Luhrmann called the King of Rock and Roll ‘the original punk’

Elvis Presley wears black leather in a promotional photograph.
Elvis Presley | Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

In an interview reprinted by the Asbury Park Press, Luhrmann called Elvis “an ultimate outsider.”

“Elvis Presley is the original punk in some regards because they’re not nostalgic. They’re not polite. He’s wildly provocative. He did get that RCA dog and roll around on the ground with it,” Luhrmann explained.

Moreover, Luhrmann referenced Presley’s show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. There, in front of more than 9,000 attendees, the King of Rock and Roll did something for which he will forever be remembered.

Presley took a replica of RCA’s trademark dog Nipper, lifted him off the floor, and lay down on stage with the statue. He continued to sing into the microphone in his right hand.

In conclusion, Luhrmann said, “You can not overstate how strange he looked and how shocking he was.”

“Now here’s our job: How do we translate ‘strange’ and ‘shocking’ to a contemporary audience?”

‘Elvis’ showcases how influential Presley was on popular music


Elvis Presley: Austin Butler Admits ‘I Got Chills’ Recording the King’s Classic Hits

In an interview for The Australian Review, Luhrmann and Elvis star, Austin Butler, added their remarks regarding Presley’s overriding influence on the music business.

Luhrman claimed Presley’s life could not be a better canvas to explore America in the 50s, the 60s, and the ’70s. 

“It’s a mythical life that he lived. That’s what drew me into his story,” the filmmaker explained.

Butler subsequently claimed that exploring Presley’s “humanity” drew him to the project.

Likewise, Butler concluded, “He’s such an icon. He’s achieved super-human status. To get to explore that and learn the way he was. To find the human within that icon, that was a joy I could do for the rest of my life.”

Elvis hits theaters on June 24.