Elvis Presley died, so we made new ones. Actually, production just expanded when last century’s great postage stamp overnighted himself into the next life—and anywhere else you’d care to look. This in mind, Canadian producer Evan Beloff—armed with a news clipping revealing Presley’s Jewish ancestry—conceived an unexplored option: Elvis as Jew.
What he documents in Schmelvis: Searching for the King’s Jewish Roots (Makor, through July 9), however, is less an icon’s reclamation than the uncertainty of such endeavors. Not sure of what tack to take in his quest (or if he’s even on one), Beloff assembles a small crew, signs on his chain-smoking rabbi and the titular—Orthodox—Presley impersonator, and heads to Graceland. They expect, even hope, that the faithful will bristle to imagine a King less the son of Tupelo than of Zion. But the company encounters a legend with one simple doctrine: Elvis was, Elvis will be, and Memphis doesn’t give a hoot who else claims him.
No wonder Beloff’s convinced his movie’s a bust; or that, after saying kaddish over the King’s grave, the crew heads to Israel to plant a tree for him. Whether the gesture’s the right one is less important than the fact that they feel it might be. Commendably, Schmelvis sketches this realization with nimble good humor, and if the result lacks the gloss or resolution usually associated with memorials, all the better. Icons aren’t always everything we want—which is why the brightest stars embrace the makeover.
Jo Sol’s Tatawo (Artmattan, opens June 28 at the Quad), which translates as Tattoo Bar, is preoccupied with body modification, but any deep mysticism—cue sitar hook—lurking in all the proffered ink is cloaked by the bleary plot. Vague Angola and Cuba references aside, this tale of a sprung tough looking to go straight is so familiar it’s faceless. Decent production values and copious sleaze only accentuate the subtitled-Skinemax vibe; your average Skin & Ink editorial is more enlightening.