Lauderdale Courts and Graceland
Constructed in Queensland, Australia, the impressive "Elvis" sets include scrupulous recreations of Elvis' first Memphis home, at the Lauderdale Courts apartment complex, and his first (and only) mansion, the originally rural Graceland, which early in the film is presented with cows on its lawn and chickens in its foyer. Some of Elvis' key moments with his mother, Gladys (Helen Thomson), occur in the Lauderdale Courts.
Sam Phillips and Marion Keisker
An alternate "Elvis" biopic might have devoted much of its running time to the duo that is credited with "discovering" Elvis, but Memphis Recording Service and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and his assistant, Marion Keisker, aren't onscreen much in Luhrmann's film. (Phillips is played by Josh McConville, Keisker by Kate Mulvany.) Luhrmann gives more attention to the impact of Elvis' first single ("That's All Right" backed by "Blue Moon of Kentucky") than to its recording.
Elvis' first girlfriend
If Sam Phillips gets less screen attention than one might expect, Dixie Locke — known in Elvis lore as Presley's "junior prom" date and first girlfriend, throughout most of 1954 and 1955 — is a fairly significant supporting player in the early sections of Luhrmann's film. Played by Australian actress Natasha Bassett, Dixie is frequently seen in distress, as Elvis' increasing fame and concert duties drive a wedge between the young sweethearts. Now known as Dixie Locke Emmons and still a Memphian, she attended the June 11 Graceland premiere of "Elvis," and was introduced from the stage by Priscilla Presley; after she rose to her feet from her seat in the theater, Mrs. Emmons received a rousing ovation.
Destroyed in a spectacular fire on April 17, 1960, the city's original baseball stadium, Russwood Park, was recreated for a key sequence in "Elvis" that finds the performer reclaiming his rock-and-roll rebel crown just days after his humiliating appearance on "The Steve Allen Show," where he wore a top hat and tails to sing "Hound Dog" to an actual basset hound. "I'm going to show you what the real Elvis is like tonight," says Elvis. Memphians of a certain age will especially appreciate an advertisement seen on a Russwood outfield wall, which reproduces the Loeb's Laundry logo that once was ubiquitous in Memphis.
Overton Park Shell
Presley's triumphant and liberating Russwood appearance on July 4, 1956, is presented by Luhrmann as a rebuke to the real-life event that occurred the same night, a racist segregationist rally at the Overton Park bandshell that was headed by James Eastland (played by Nicholas Bell), a U.S. senator from Mississippi. A passage from Michael T. Bernard's 2004 book "Race, Rock and Elvis" summarizes the hopeful message: "As Eastland and Presley each reached out to their frenzied constituencies, an inevitable clash appeared in the making. One cherished way of life faced extinction at the hands of the other."
In a characteristic bit of "Baz-matazz," the members of Elvis' extended entourage, the so-called "Memphis Mafia" — Jerry Schilling, Red West, Charlie Hodge and so on — are introduced as if they were guest stars on a TV show, their names splashed onscreen in colorful, stylized, 1960-style lettering that is intended to suggest the pop exuberance of even the lamest of Elvis' Hollywood movies. Only Australian actor Luke Bracey as Schilling gets enough screen time to make an impression, however.
Baptist Memorial Hospital
As seen in the movie, Elvis was admitted for treatment at the original Baptist hospital, on Union Avenue; in fact, Elvis was hospitalized three times, from 1973 to 1975, for various reasons, generally related to exhaustion and narcotics dependency. The film depicts one such episode, and accurately depicts the way aluminum foil-like sheets were spread over the windows in his room, to shield the nocturnal singer from daylight. The 21-story hospital — where Elvis' daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, was born on Feb. 1, 1968, and where Elvis was declared dead on Aug. 16, 1977 — was razed by explosives on Nov. 6, 2005.
Meanwhile, often lurking on the margins of scenes set in the 1970s, is Tony Nixon as "Dr. Nick," George C. Nichopoulos, the Memphis physician who prescribed Elvis' pills. With no dialogue, Dr. Nick is presented as a sinister presence — a diabolic familiar to the Mephistophelean "Colonel" Tom.
Much of Elvis' dialogue in the movie is "authentic" in that it is borrowed from actual print or audio interviews, but repurposed in the film in a dramatic context. This is testimony to the research carried out by Luhrmann and his researchers: The director says that his team created a sort of spread sheet of every known Elvis quote from throughout the singer's career, for use in the movie.
For example, at one point, Elvis in the film complains that the newspaper nickname "Elvis the Pelvis" — a disparaging comment on his wiggling hips — is "one of the most childish expressions I've ever heard coming from an adult." That line was borrowed from a 1956 interview in TV Guide.
Later, arguing that his increasingly frivolous movie career was not an adequate response to the unrest fomenting in Memphis and across the nation, an angry Elvis says: "Martin Luther King was shot eight miles from Graceland, while we were singing to turtles." The bizarre "singing to turtles" comment is taken from a 1969 Las Vegas press conference, during which Elvis complained about the quality of his soundtrack albums: "When you do ten songs in a movie, they can't all be good songs... I got tired of singing to turtles." Apparently, Elvis was referring to the sometimes silly song contexts of his movies, which would find him singing to children, to nuns, in yoga studios, and even about mollusks and crustaceans ("Crawfish," "Song of the Shrimp," "Do the Clam").
And, yes, we admit this 10th entry isn't particularly Memphicentric, except that Elvis lived in Memphis and some of his quotes originated in Memphis. But we thought we'd include it, anyway, to give moviegoers more incentive to keep their ears as well as their eyes open.