Director: Jeanie Finlay
Watch Orion: The Man Who Would Be King online in the UK: We Are Colony / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes
Orion: The Man Who Would be King is available to watch on BBC iPlayer in a shortened Storyville cut until 20th December 2015.
Fans of Searching for Sugarman will do well to seek out this documentary about another obscure singer. Have you heard of Jim Ellis? No? How about Elvis Presley? Of course. Everyone has – a fact that proved both a blessing and a curse.
Ellis had an exceptional gift: he sounded an awful like Elvis Presley. The only problem? Elvis already existed. While the unfortunate situation could have opened doors for a life-long career in Las Vegas as an impersonator, Ellis wasn’t interested in being a carbon copy: he wanted to be an artist, maybe even a star, in his own right. After all, as he points out in the film, Elvis sounded like Elvis and that didn’t do him any harm.
And so his manager, the crafty Shelby Singleton of Sun Records, came up with an inspired solution: he would wear a mask on stage. Goodbye, Jim. Hello, Orion.
The mysterious figure proved just the thing grieving Elvis fans needed following the superstar’s death – someone to project all of their desires and fantasies onto. Was Elvis dead? Surely not: someone else who sounds and, thanks to the mask, looks a bit like him was still out there releasing albums.
Director Jeanie Finlay charts this unusual rise to faux-stardom with a melancholic note: from his friends and those in the record biz, there is an endearing air of sympathy that accompanies their interviews, while footage of crazed audiences raises some fascinating questions about our relationship with celebrities. Over time, rumours of Elvis having plastic surgery to disguise his appearance after his non-death arise from nowhere, the hysteria stoked by Singleton’s decision to give Orion a fictional hometown of Ribbonsville, Tennessee.
The presentation of the linear narrative, all neon dates and glowing text, gives things a cheap, cheesy look, which adds to the downbeat air of fake showbiz. The film finds strength, though, in Orion’s genuine talent: the soundtrack sees his voice float over the top of the visuals, emphasising the tragic similarity between Jim and his acoustic twin. The result is an intriguing, engaging study of the thin line between fame and anonymity. Have you heard of Jim Ellis? No. But you might have, without even realising it.
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is available online with a bundle of exclusive behind-the-scenes content, including interviews, making-of documentaries, script and bloopers, from WeAreColony.com