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Movie Review: Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Roots

Story: No, this is not a joke. Before my passion for all things Irish and all things Indian, there was first...the all things Elvis obsession. So naturally, when I read about a new documentary on the King, along with this provocative title...I was there.

It seems that while Elaine Dundy was researching items for her 1985 book about Elvis and his mother (he loved his mama) she discovered that Elvis' great-great grandmother, Nancy Burdine Tackett, was Jewish. For those not in the Jewish loop, Jewishness is passed on through the mother - so that means great-great granny Nancy, birthed Martha, who had Doll, who delivered Gladys who, in 1935, gifted us with the King. Ergo...the King is Jewish.

A follow up article in the mid 90's, in the Wall Street Journal, also mentioned Elvis' Jewish Connection. Several young, Jewish, Canadian film makers got wind of this theory and set out to find if this rumor was true. And so we get: Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots.

Writer/director Max Wallace convinces six other Canadians including Dan Hartel, a born again Hassidic Elvis impersonator (he is Schmelvis) who we find at the opening credits entertaining at an old age home in his Schmelvis outfit, replete with a Star of David as a large belt ornament, a wisecracking Rabbi, whose function was to say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) at Elvis' grave at Graceland, one gentile cameraman and four others, including the producers, who had many other functions as we learn along the way - such as arguing.

Is it a spoof? Is it a This is Spinal Tap kind of mockumentary? Who knows? All I know is that I laughed, as did my two buddies, very hard. Did they learn anything about Elvis' Jewish roots? Not to ruin the plot...I have to admit they learned nothing other than the anti-Semitism they expected to find all over the South when they approached people about the King's being Jewish...was just not found. Most people could not care less what the King's background was, is, or had been. He has ascended beyond mortal man in their eyes. He is, was, and always will be - the King.

This merry band of goof-balls ends up going to Israel when their original premise shifts gears. That part of the film was very interesting in other ways. It was filmed two years ago, in August of 2000 and there are several scenes filmed at the spots where, just recently, homicide bombers have amassed so much destruction. A brief scene includes Schmelvis, entertaining some Palestinian children...a very poignant moment. It seems that everyone, everywhere, just loves the King.

So, if you are looking for something very different to watch this summer (assuming you can find this in your neighborhood) and want to honor the alleged death of the King (this is the 25th anniversary), and want to see what six Jewish men act like in a Winnebago (that alone was worth the price of admission)...go forth and amuse yourselves.

Lobo has left the building!

Acting: This is a documentary (I think). There is no acting.

Critters: None.

Food: Considering the King's palate, I would have thought there would have been a lot of food, but alas, not! We were thinking of having fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches afterwards...but changed our minds.

Visual Art: Puh-leeze - it was the South...it was Graceland...it was wonderful.

Blatant Product Placement: Every fast food chain known to exist was driven by or through.

Soundtrack: Very, very funny.

Opening Titles: Funny

Theater Audience: An odd group of viewers. The film was playing in Makor, a small, Upper West Side Cultural Center. Everyone seemed to be having as good a time as we did.

Quirky Meter: 6

Predictability Level: I had no idea where this film was going and neither did the film makers.

Oscar Worthy: Perhaps.

Nit Picking: No nits to pick.

Big Screen or Rental: I can't imagine you will be able to find this anywhere. Perhaps it will appear on TV during Elvis week this coming August.

Length: 76 minutes.