Orion: The Man Who Would Be KingTribeca Film Festival 2015
There is only one Elvis Presley. His recordings, television specials and big memorable musical numbers from otherwise unmemorable movies created his mystique. But his death in 1977 at 42 made The King immortal. His fans had a hard time letting him go – something his former record label Sun understood all too well. Hence, Orion entered the building.
In Jeanie Finlay’s fascinating documentary, Jimmy Ellis (1945-1998) is Orion: The Man Who Would Be King. His story is classic showbiz. Unlike Elvis impersonators who work the Vegas and nightclub circuits, or like Mark Boone Junior’s lovable Bobby-Elvis in Sons of Anarchy, Ellis’ singing voice was eerily similar to Presley’s. An orphan adopted by a farm family, Ellis left a successful horse-training career for show business. His voice was a deterrent…until Elvis died and Sun’s Shelby Singleton got hold of Gail Brewer’s novel fantasy (strong emphasis on “fan” here) “Orion” and created a masked, jump-suited, karate-kicking reincarnation. Ellis was popular, liked by his colleagues, and even performed with those other master masqueraders KISS – but could not record under his own name or take the mask off in public. Like Elvis, he too was mismanaged. Ellis had a good enough voice for gospel or Broadway.
Archival footage of performances, interviews and album covers vividly illustrate Ellis’ colorful career. Finlay has a excellent eye and ear for capturing the 1970s and 80s. Reminiscences of friends, ex-girlfriends, son Jimmy Jr and musicians are sincere and honest. Fans also add nicely to the portrait, recalling their obsession without coming across as crazy or self-appointed like those who stalk stage doors. All of them form a collective voice for the other major character, Nashville, which as one interviewee said is “built on emotion”.
Perhaps Ellis and Orion would have fared better today, where music genres regularly cross over and performers with distinctive onstage “acts” can be successful beyond one or two recordings. What is certain is that through Orion: The Man Who Would Be King, Finlay finally gives him is his moment in the spotlight.
Orion: The Man Who Would be King does not yet have a US release date.