14 November 2022

Thank you, thank you very much for the NFSA's new Elvis display

| Sally Hopman
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Woman in front of costumes and Memphis sign

Curator Tara Marynowsky shows off the latest addition to the Australians and Hollywood exhibition, costumes from the Baz Luhrmann movie Elvis. Photo: Evelyn Karatzas.

Elvis has entered the building, Canberra’s National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) building.

Costumes designed by Catherine Martin in the Baz Luhrmann biopic Elvis are now on show at the NFSA in the latest iteration of its current exhibition, Australians and Hollywood.

The exhibition opened last week and showcases costumes worn by “Elvis” (Austin Butler) in the hit movie, plus his wife Priscilla’s (Olivia De Jonge’s) iconic “divorce” coat, Hank Snow’s green frog “Nudie Suit”, and the Louisiana Hayride suit worn by Elvis back in the mid-1950s during his rebellious stage.

The costumes are the latest addition to the NFSA collection, acquired from Luhrmann and Martin, to be preserved by the archives so they remain available for future generations to see and research.

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Martin, a four-time Oscar-winning designer, said last month: “I’m happy these costumes can live on at the NFSA and contribute to Australia’s audiovisual heritage.

“It’s wonderful to think work made in Australia can stay in Australia and become a reference for future filmmakers and designers.”

Exhibition curator Tara Marynowsky said the collection “really shows the creative force that is Baz Luhrmann’s brain”.

She said selecting and securing the new pieces for the exhibition was about eight months in the making and the latest instalment in the overall Luhrmann/Martin collection by the NFSA. Other items include accessories, props, images and audiovisual material.

“These pieces add to the existing collection we have acquired, it’s like building the legacy that is Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin,” she said. “Looking at these costumes shows the detail Catherine Martin went to, particularly the Hank Snow costume, so wonderfully green and glittery.

“And I particularly loved the Elvis jumpsuit we selected to showcase because it was the one where he could set fireworks off from the belt.”

One of the most iconic of the new pieces is a jacket made from patches of leather – Priscilla’s “divorce” coat.

patchwork coat

Priscilla Presley’s “divorce” coat designed by Catherine Martin for the Elvis movie. Photo: NFSA.

Tara said Priscilla famously wore the coat in 1973 when her marriage to Elvis officially ended. Apparently a last-minute addition to the film, Martin and her team immaculately recreated it in only two days to meet the filming deadline.

The coat is in great contrast to the off-the-rack simple ensemble Priscilla wore to their wedding six years earlier in Las Vegas. The wedding outfit might have been demure – her hairstyle not so much. How could anyone forget that jet black bouffant dyed to perfectly match that of her soon-to-be husband.

Another of the new items, and surely the shiniest, is a copy of the green frog pond “Nudie suit” worn by David Wenham in his role as Hank Snow – a famous country music singer until Elvis overtook him in the popularity stakes.

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Martin went beyond even the flamboyant suits designed by Nudie Cohen, must-haves for country music stars at the time, with this piece. Complete with a happy frog on back and front, it carries the initial embroidered “HS” on the back. You can also see glimpses of the equally flamboyant yellow western shirt underneath, featuring embroidered wagon wheels, cactus plants and of course, bling.

For those early Elvis fans, Martin recreated the Louisiana Hayride suit, a style Elvis favoured in the late 1940s as did his contemporaries BB King and Little Richard. It was also the start of risque Elvis, with the suit made to be boxy and loose, allowing the King to perform the overtly sexual moves which were to make him famous.

The new-look Australians and Hollywood exhibition is at the National Film and Sound Archive, Acton. It is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm with extended hours on Fridays until 8 pm. Tickets available online or at the door.

There will also be a special screening of the Elvis movie on Friday 18 November 18 at 6 pm. Bookings available at nfsa.gov.au/elvis

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