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Arts & Culture

INDEPENDENT LENS: The King

Courtesy of David Kuhn
Mike Coykendall (left) and M. Ward (right) in Eugene Jarecki's "The King."

Airs Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Climb into Elvis' 1963 Rolls-Royce for a musical road trip and meditation on modern America.

Forty years after the death of Elvis Presley, two-time Sundance Grand Jury winner Eugene Jarecki takes the King’s 1963 Rolls-Royce on a musical road trip across America.

From Tupelo to Memphis to New York, Las Vegas, and countless points between, the journey explores the rise and fall of Elvis as a metaphor for the country he left behind.

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What emerges is a visionary portrait of the state of the American dream and a penetrating look at how the hell we got here.

“The King” premieres on INDEPENDENT LENS Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

Far more than a musical biopic, "The King" is a snapshot of America at a critical time in the nation’s history.

Tracing Elvis’ life and career from his birth and meteoric rise in the deep south to his tragic and untimely end in Hollywood and Las Vegas, the film covers a vast distance across contemporary America, painting a parallel portrait of the nation’s own heights and depths, from its inspired origins to its perennial struggles with race, class, power and money.

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Over thousands of miles, a diverse group of passengers join the journey, including Alec Baldwin, Rosanne Cash, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, James Carville, Ashton Kutcher, David Simon, Van Jones, Mike Myers, and Dan Rather, among others.

Courtesy of Ghost in the Machine Films
Emmylou Harris in Elvis' Rolls Royce.

“We wanted the film’s cast of characters to reflect the rich tapestry of the American family, expressing themselves in words and, at times, in song inside Elvis’ Rolls,” said Jarecki. “'The King' is both an Elvis film and a film about the American experience, so we chose people who could speak to either of these in a deep and authentic way.”

“At a time when our national discourse veers increasingly toward the dogmatic, Jarecki follows the rise and fall of this quintessentially American figure to look deeper into the acute challenges of today," said Lois Vossen, INDEPENDENT LENS executive producer. "What I appreciate most about this film is that it refrains from offering easy answers, and instead uses our cultural fascination with Elvis as an entree to dig beneath the noise and explore the evolution of American culture, capitalism, and democracy through a multitude of perspectives — from celebrities and public figures to everyday citizens across the nation.”

Courtesy of David Kuhn
Marsha Philpot with an Elvis album, from "The King."

Weaving the sights and sounds of Elvis’ own music and films with soaring live performances from artists as varied as teen Nashville phenomenon EmiSunshine, Mississippi bluesman Leo Bud Welch, New York City rapper Immortal Technique, the cool West Coast sounds of M. Ward, and the gospel stylings of Memphis’s Stax Music Academy, “The King” opens the door to a deeper, more complex discourse on America’s identity and path forward.

Courtesy of Ghost in the Machine Films
Elvis' house for sale.

Watch On Your Schedule:

This episode will be available for streaming on demand beginning Tuesday, Jan. 29 for a limited time. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

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Credits:

Director/Writer/Producer: Eugene Jarecki. Producers: Christopher St. John, David Kuhn, Chris Frierson and Georgina Hill. Executive Producers: Steven Soderbergh; Errol Morris; Rosanne Cash; Barbara Biemann; Sally Jo Fifer and Lois Vossen. Supervising Producer: Melinda Shopsin. Editors: Simon Barker; Èlia Gasull Balada; Alex Bingham and Laura Israel. Director of Photography: Etienne Sauret and Tom Bergmann. Composers: Robert Miller; Antony Genn and Martin Slattery.