Dir.: Eugene Jarecki | Documentary | USA 2017 | 117′
Director/writer Eugene Jarecki (Reagan) has managed to cramp three different films into PROMISED LAND: whilst driving through the southern States of the USA in Elvis’ Rolls Royce Phantom V, retelling the story of the King, numerous singers (among them M. Ward and Emmylou Harris) play music on the backseats of the car, and celebrities like Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin and Ethan Hawke give their opinions. Finally, Jarecki catches the last months of the Democratic Primaries in 2016, culminating in Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 – being described as the death of the American Dream: the promised land is no more.
Or, to be precise, it has never existed: just for a few decades after WWII, preceded by the Great Depression and followed by the slow death of the lower middle classes in the last twenty odd years. Trump voters are not the only ones who are no longer upwardly mobile, and their children are poorer than their parents. Jarecki gives no reasons for the downturn: but the images shot on the road show a country whose infrastructure has been neglected for decades: apart from in the big cities, the last improvements seemed to have happened in the late 6os. Somehow, the lost dream has turned much of the country into a stagnant backwater.
The director is equally critical about Elvis: “He went into the army as James Dean in 1958 and returned as John Wayne two years later”. And there is the not so small matter of his future wife Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he met in Germany when she was just fourteen. And whilst Mohammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) preferred to go to jail, than to fight for his country in the Vietnam War, Elvis met with Richard Nixon in 1970, spurning the possibility of bringing his popularity on the side of the Anti-War and Civil Rights movement.
Somehow, Jarecki keeps everything together and delivers an informative film: a mix of Showbiz and nostalgia. One can’t help liking this documentary which unfurls with ease and panache. AS
BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4 -15 OCTOBER 2017