The city of Bendigo is currently hosting ‘Elvis – Direct from Graceland’ an exhibition of the life of Elvis Presley. He needs no introduction – anyone my age, or much younger would be completely familiar with Elvis, his music and his movies.
We had tickets for the exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery and stayed overnight for a relaxed couple of days away. The story of Elvis at the gallery is very well curated and presented. It covers a series of rooms that traces his life from young child to the time of his early death.
His music is being played in every room of the gallery. Most of it was recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis which we visited on our ill-fated river cruise down the Mississippi in 2019. I can still see the studio in my mind and remember the studio in which Elvis recorded his songs..
Over his life, Elvis recorded around 600 songs. He was first perceived as a rock and roll singer and I remember my mother strongly disliking his early music. It was too modern for her and Elvis’ hip swivelling was far too suggestive. However, he become much better known later for his ballads that make up most of the number of songs that he recorded.
The displays showed Elvis growing up in a poor family with hand-me-down clothes, then gradually moving to a more comfortable lifestyle, spending time in the army and ultimately becoming a celebrated performer.
In the spring of 1957, when Elvis Presley was 22, he purchased Gracelands and its grounds for just over $100,000. The previous year had been a whirlwind for him. It was Elvis’ first year of super-stardom including historic network television appearances, record-breaking live performances and many gold record awards.The cheque that he paid as a deposit and the house keys are on display.
He married Priscilla in 1957 but divorced in 1973. Priscilla remarried a couple of times and is the co-founder and former chairwoman of Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), the company that turned Graceland into one of the top tourist attractions in the United States.
Elvis’ movie costumes are exhibited alongside a number of publicity shots, scripts and handwritten notes. He appeared in carefully-managed film roles in the 1950s and 60s.
In these movies his reputation change from a ‘ne’er-do-well youth’ giving ‘smouldering performances’ to a ‘mischievous but clean-cut and suave leading man’. I don’t remember any of the movies having much of a story line – they were really just a sequence of songs strung together. There were clips from these movies being-projected onto the gallery walls.
The American Eagle jumpsuit and waist-length cape from 1973’s ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ were the final exhibits to see. Elvis threw the cape into the audience, and it made its way back to Graceland after the death of the lucky catcher. The decoration on these two garments is magnificent, complemented by the background’s subtle eagle wing design that exemplifies the costume’s grandeur. It apparently now has a worth of many millions of dollars.
Most of the visitors at the gallery were in my age group. At Elvis’ height of popularity, they were his big fans. The curators of this impressive exhibition, which really has something for everyone, shows the power that still remains in the Elvis legend.
On one hand it was good to see that this exhibition was so popular, but the large crowd at the gallery made it difficult to get a good look at any exhibits.