Even though Elvis Aaron Presley died 46 years ago, public fascination in the man known as ‘The King of Rock and Roll’ continues. Many Elvis obsessives make the pilgrimage to his Graceland home in Memphis, Tennessee, to feel closer to their idol.
But with the arrival of Direct from Graceland: Elvis at the newly-opened Arches London Bridge (literally round the corner from the exit of the station), this impressive retrospective, exploring the many aspects of the music superstar’s life and career, brings to the Capital the most significant collection of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to ever leave Memphis.
With over 400 artefacts owned by the man himself (to be honest, it feels like even more are on display), Direct from Graceland is as satisfying a deep dive into the Elvis-verse as you could hope for. Ranging from the personal (his daughter Lisa Marie’s baby clothes) to the iconic (the Dragon Jumpsuit), this beautifully-curated exhibition has assembled a wealth of items from which you build up an image of the man as much as the legend.
Divided into well-chosen sections, even for the uninitiated, the exhibition puts many different aspects of Presley’s life and work under the spotlight and allows you to dwell on whichever areas that are of more interest to you. Whether his humble beginnings in Tupelo, making his first recordings with Sun Records, buying Graceland, the development of his fashion style, his live performances or his foray into movie making in Hollywood, the myriad of exhibits (some of which have never been seen before in the UK), it comprehensively tells the story of a superstar who broke the mould.
Such is the eclecticism of all that’s on display, each visitor will leave with their own unique take away from Direct from Graceland: Elvis. The Recs found certain themes and impressions from the Press Preview. Not since Ian Fleming’s seventh James Bond novel has someone been so obsessed with gold! From a gold-plated phone from his Graceland bedroom to a golden Rolex given to him in 1970 by the Houston Livestock Show Officers to the Gold Lamé Suit that Colonel Parker had custom made for his “Golden Boy”, Elvis certainly had a love for all things auric.
This love for the gilt lustre stretches to some truly unexpected objects: the Mark 900 Briefcase Phone is truly remarkable (and rather camp) in of itself. But to see Elvis’ own handwritten instruction notes on a sheet of paper in the lid somehow feels like a true link to the actual man reaching back across the years. It’s rather touching.
Elvis’ evolving sense of style is another striking theme of the exhibition. For a straight man, there is certainly a delicious flamboyance to his stage wardrobe. The cuban-collar shirts and rockabilly leisure wear of the 50s give way to eyecatching fur-trimmed jackets and bold-patterned shirts of the 60s. It’s fascinating to see the beadwork and rhinestone detail on his famous jumpsuits and iconic capes close up. You only need to look at some of Harry Style’s outfits to see how Elvis’ fashions have endured.
While the exhibition naturally ignores various Presley controversies (his wife Priscilla was only 14 when he met her, he culturally appropriated black music), Direct from Graceland: Elvis isn’t a complete hagiography. Even with the stunning 1960 MGA 1600 MKI car that was used in Blue Hawaii as the dazzling centrepiece of the Movies section, the exhibition doesn’t shy away from the notion that his 30-plus filmography is far from stellar.
The only quibble against an otherwise flawless exhibition is that the projected films on the walls often reflect onto the glass case of the exhibits, occasionally making it harder to see the objects as clearly as you might like – but it’s a small gripe against such a well-executed retrospective.
A Big Hunk O’Love and attention has been put into Direct from Graceland: Elvis. Whether you have only a casual interest in Elvis or are an ardent fan of The King, make sure you head to this unmissible experience at the Arches London Bridge.
Viva Las Vegas, Viva London Bridge – ★★★★ 4-stars