FYC: ‘Elvis’ for Best Film Editing

When it was announced Baz Luhrmann was taking on the Elvis Presley story, many could already envision the glitz and the glamour the writer-director would bring to the film. Part of Luhrmann’s visual storytelling style is the sharp yet bombastic editing that pieces together every craft in his films. In Elvis, the film’s editing becomes its own character. Part of what makes the film work so well is that our titular character (played by Austin Butler) is the guiding light of the film despite not being the narrator of the story. The quick, sharply-paced editing keeps Elvis’s experience as the forefront of the story. 

Elvis is a biopic at its core, but Luhrmann and his crew elevate the film outside of the often stiff biopic genre. While the film touches on Elvis’s life from childhood, falling in love, his army service, the loss of his mother, rise to fame, and downward spiral until his death, Elvis feels so different than a ‘cradle-to-grave’ biopic. While the film does almost hit the three-hour runtime, Elvis never feels that long. The pace of the film is constantly keeping you entertained and that is in large part due to Luhrmann’s longtime editors, Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa (this is Redmond’s fifth project with the director and Villa’s fourth).

The task of keeping a film that spans multiple decades, contains many story lines, and features various musical performances together fell on Redmond and Villa. The editors understood Luhrmann’s vision and that Elvis should never feel like any other biopic. Redmond and Villa spliced together Elvis’s entire filmography into about a three-minute clip, but then made his ‘Comeback Special’ in 1968 the apex of the film. The two film editors knew the heart of the film was showing Presley as a man, not the legend most audiences are familiar with. The ‘Comeback Special’ was elongated so the film could show the state of the world in 1968 alongside the personal development of Presley in both his personal life and career, with Presley standing up to Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).

The relationship between the Colonel and Presley was used as an anchor in the film, and the editing style highlights this relationship throughout the film’s runtime. Many scenes were edited out of the film’s original four hour-plus runtime, but from various interviews, it sounds like no scenes between Colonel and Presley were removed. While many would assume the central relationship in a film about Presley would be between him and Priscilla, Elvis uses his relationship with his manager to show his rise and fall (and another rise and fall) with fame throughout Presley’s lifetime. 

The kinetic pacing of the live performances truly transports audiences to another world; whether it be on Beale Street or at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Redmon and Villa’s editing keeps audiences in the world Luhrmann and his crew built in Elvis. In addition to recreating the world of Presley, the editors spliced in real footage from and of Presley throughout the film. There are various ‘blink and you could miss it’ moments in the film to the final, emotional cut to the real Presley performing at the end. While typically splicing in real footage of a performer in a biopic can feel cheap, Elvis ps so effective because the film itself is framed in such a caring way around Presley as a person, not just a performer. 

Elvis simply does not work as a Luhrmann film without the editing from Redmon and Villa. Their work showcases the lengthy career of an icon without ever feeling rushed. The electrifying film editing in Elvis stands out from just being ‘the most editing’ and is truly some of the best in the category. 

You can read our review of Elvis here.

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