Historical footnotes make for some of the best stories. We all know the big stuff – what John Wilkes Booth shouted as he jumped on the stage at Ford’s Theater, what it took to build the Eiffel Tower etc – but what about the little oddities that happen in between those moments? These are the kinds of anecdotes that maybe not everyone is aware of but they often contain the more human moments, the ones where people’s guards are down a bit and they are acting like less than the towering figures of history that they actually may be.
One such moment is the real-life history of Elvis Presley meeting President Richard Nixon and that’s the story being told in Elvis & Nixon. The movie tells the (kind of true) story about a real event: Elvis (Michael Shannon) showed up at the White House in 1970 essentially volunteering to become an agent in Nixon’s (Kevin Spacey) nascent war on drugs and other dissident factions in the country. The moment was captured in what has famously become the most requested photo from the National Archives and is a weird mixture of celebrity, politics and the kind of outrageousness behavior we expect from both arenas.
The first poster has the names of the two stars at the top. Below that we see Elvis’ iconic sunglasses, an “&” and then an American flag label pin, meant to illustrate the combination of Elvis and the U.S. government. The tagline above the title treatment says “Elvis has entered the White House,” a decently clever spin on a familiar line. Then we’re told this is “The true story you won’t quite believe.”
It’s an alright poster but it’s not quite as funny as it thinks it is and lacks any sort of quick point of recognition and comprehension for the audience. It does a good job with what it has to work with but it’s not anything special.
The second poster creates a bigger sense of the movie, with bright lights akin to what you’d see in Vegas making up the movie’s title in the background and the two main characters in front of that, each one immediately identifiable, shaking hands.
I love the copy on this one: “On December 21st 1970, two of America’s greatest recording artists met for the first time.” You have to know your history to fully get that joke and I’m a big fan of that kind of humor.
The one and only trailer is…well…it’s pretty ridiculous, but that’s befitting the subject matter, I suppose. We start out hearing about how famous and popular the actual photo is. Then we see Elvis showing up at the White House, which is seen as an opportunity by advisors to enlist him as an ambassador. We then get shot after shot of Elvis and Nixon talking and getting along as the former makes the case that he’s the best man to go undercover and break up the communist drug rings.
It’s an odd trailer, but it’s an odd story. Spacey does what he can as Nixon and Shannon looks like he’s having a great (but understated) time as Elvis. The trailer sells a movie that really focuses on the core meeting between the two, with additional scenes just being shading around that centerpiece.
Online and Social
The official website for the movie isn’t bad, opening with a banner that reuses some of the key art with Elvis and Nixon shaking hands.
If you scroll down the site you can find a theater near you that’s playing the movie and that’s followed by “Videos,” which has the trailer and a behind-the-scenes Featurette with Shannon, Spacey and the rest of the cast talking about this ridiculous story and what it was like to bring this moment to life.
A “Story” section has a brief and not-terribly insightful synopsis of the movie’s story. “Photos” has a rotating gallery of images that helpfully have some captions along with them to tell you what’s going on.
“The Cast” doesn’t offer any information on the cast’s biographies and such, it’s just a gallery of head shots. Finally the “In the Press” section has links to four bits of news coverage the movie has garnered.
The movie’s Facebook page and Twitter profile have been used to share promotional graphics and links to some of the press stories that have been generated along with other marketing material. And the movie hitched a ride on Bleecker St.’s Instagram profile.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
At least a couple TV spots were created and run, both play up the ridiculous nature of this meeting but one really hits that, making the differentiation between the official story we all know and the unofficial story which, it says, is “bats**t insane.” They both work hard to make the movie seem like a lot of fun, selling a loose, shaggy movie that includes some insane scenes and performances.
There were online ads run that used a variation on the key art to create banner ads, background-takeover ads and more. The movie also got a couple sponsored posts on Buzzfeed, one asking if you were more a rock star or president and another with tips on meeting the president.
Media and Publicity
The movie was announced a while ago as a late addition to the Tribeca Film Festival, which is going on now, something that was obviously designed to give it a bit of a boost just before it opened.
Shannon and Spacey were obviously the focal point of the press push, with Shannon talking in various interviews like this one about how he wanted to avoid doing an Elvis impersonation and do more of a sketch based on real things. And lots of the coverage of the movie, particularly early-on, focused on how this was yet another presidential role for Spacey.
Director Liza Johnson got some press too, with an interview that allowed her to talk about working with Shannon and Spacey and what they were trying to convey with the movie. The screenwriters too got a chance to talk about trying to make such an insane but true story into a feature film.
Hanks, Knoxville and Pettyfer seemed to have been sent out as a group, doing junket interviews as well as talk shows and such all together.
The main draw here is the outrageous story and the campaign puts that front and center to sell it to the audience. Everything here, from the visuals on the key art to the narration on the TV spots, sells a story that’s so insane it just kind of has to be true. Shannon and Spacey are, as I said, the focal point of what’s on display here but there’s also plenty of attention given to the supporting cast since they’re the ones who are reacting to the insanity going on around them, seemingly aware that this is all crazy but powerless to call BS on anything because…Elvis and Nixon.
The movie looks funny and the marketing certainly plays up the “funny” moments as if it’s full of one-liners and such from beginning to end. But my suspicion is that there’s more of a subtly funny vibe going on in the story and that it’s less slapstick and eyerolls than it is mild chuckles here and there. My hope is that all that adds up to, at the end, an overall satisfying experience and not one that comes off as an uneven mess.