ORION: The Man Who Would Be King (12A), the latest feature documentary from award-winning director Jeanie Finlay (Glimmer Films) is released into UK cinemas from Friday 25 September and has received distribution support to enhance this theatrical release from Creative England and Ffilm Cymru Wales.
Orion tells the story of Jimmy Ellis, an American singer with a natural voice that drew unavoidable similarities to Elvis Presley. In the aftermath of Elvis’s death in 1977, music producer Shelby Singleton of Sun Records played on the conspiracy theories about Elvis having faked his own death and created Orion – a masked singer with a mysterious past who had the look and sound of Elvis whilst never laying claim to being the man himself. For four years success lay in the hands of Ellis as he toured and rode the waves of popularity, but frustrations crept in about the public perception of him and the deals he had signed and he finally broke away from his deal in some style.
This documentary was spawned by a chance purchase at a Nottingham market, where director Jeanie Finlay picked up a copy of the Reborn album on 12″ vinyl, Orion’s debut release. That was where the interest in him started, and between then and now the director has visited almost everyone closely involved in his life to discuss their experience of a man driven by a desire to sing on his own terms. It is excellently put together. It is a story that threatens to be either not very interesting or flawed due to lack of decent source material (the Presley estate provide little footage for these kinds of films and many of the key people in the film were unavailable for interview). Fortunately, neither of these things threaten to creep in and the end product is fascinating.
It goes a long way into intimately portraying a man torn between being forced to hide behind a mask and enjoying the limited success he was achieving. It is balanced and as such avoids over-celebrating Ellis, concentrating on his personality rather than his success. As with most music documentaries, many of the anecdotes bring huge amounts of comedy to the table and Finlay has been careful to interview as many people as were available, no easy task when on such a tight budget.
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is a documentary worth watching, and it’s an experience enhanced if you know nothing about Ellis. A full list of screenings can be found on the official website.