Thursday, June 02, 2016

Elvis & Nixon

Back in 2001, I wrote a story, 'The Two Dicks', based on the photograph above -- the most requested photograph in the USA's National Archives -- in which bestselling author Philip K. Dick, instead of Elvis Presley, met with President Nixon in the Oval Office in December 1970. Elvis & Nixon delves into the story behind the photograph, when Elvis one night decided that he had an urgent mission to meet the President, and explain why he should become a Federal Agent at large and help to save the country from communist infiltration and a plague of drugs.

Director Liza Johnson and writers Joey and Hanala Sagal spin a goofy, sweetly eccentric comedy around the clash of cultures. Neither Michael Shannon, playing Elvis, and Kevin Spacey, as Nixon, especially look like the men they're playing, but they convince through sheer performative force. Nixon is a man bored by the minutiae of his office; Shannon's Elvis is trapped in his fame, able to use it but not to escape it, and possessed by a charming determination to complete his mission. He's helped by two friends and a couple of White House aides who at one point conspire in the kind of car park where Deep Throat spilled the beans on the Watergate break-in.

Elvis takes command of the encounter by sheer force of charisma, breaking all rules of protocol, casually saying, when Nixon points to a Moon rock, that 'Buzz sent me one too,' and the two men develop a mutual respect over M&Ms, Dr Pepper and dislike of the Beatles. It's the kind of encounter that probably can't happen now, where meetings between politicians and celebrities are more commonplace and choreographed by PR and media awareness. While the film somewhat deviates from the truth, it perfectly captures the high absurdity of this strange, unique moment.


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