Orion: The Man Who Would Be King Directed by Jeanie Finlay. Not rated. Opens Friday.
Thanks to movies like Searching for Sugar Man and A Band Called Death, the story of the forgotten genius has become a sort of music-documentary subgenre, and Orion: The Man Who Would Be King builds up a similar mystique around Jimmy Ellis, an Alabama singer who became a brief sensation in the late 1970s. Ellis’ story is less one of unappreciated genius than a cautionary tale about the record business, and it ends not in triumphant rediscovery but in tragedy. Still, it’s an affecting and often bizarre story that director Jeanie Finlay handles in a straightforward but mostly satisfying way.
Ellis, who had a voice that sounded uncannily like Elvis Presley’s (and who bore a passing resemblance to the King), emerged as a masked singer known as Orion in the months following Elvis’ death. After years of music-business struggle, Ellis struck a Faustian bargain to allow Sun Records to market him as the potential resurrection of Elvis, and for a while, fans bought into it. Finlay details the strange confluence of events that led to Orion’s existence, and the sad later years when Ellis attempted to take back his musical identity. The movie shines a light on a talented man who was never able to escape the shadow of a legend.