In the sequence, Elvis (Austin Butler) is giving one of his first performances in front of an audience while Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the man who would become his manager, watches on.
While historically Elvis’s first big introduction was said to be at Sun Records, performing for its owner, Sam Phillips, the film takes a different route.
The director Baz Luhrmann wanted that moment to take place in front of a crowd, showcasing all of the pieces that came together when the rocker performed.
“Elvis wasn’t just about what he sang,” Luhrmann said, narrating the scene. “It was as much about how he looked and how he moved. But most importantly, it was his effect upon the audience.”
And boy, what an effect here. As Elvis sings and moves his hips, he seems to prompt almost uncontrollable screams from the women in the audience. That builds to a kind of infectious hysteria that feels as shocking as it does organic.
Luhrmann worked with Butler (and some very airy trousers) to get the moves right. But the key to the scene was the extras. The moment may seem chaotic, but it was heavily designed. A movement coach and choreographer, Polly Bennett, worked with a team of performers they called the scream queens. These women had training in producing hysterical movements and also in high-pitched keening that solidified the action of the sequence.