Review

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The Independent Culture
It is chastening, at the end of the season's over-indulgence, to be confronted by a warning as stark as the one Arena: The Burger and the King (BBC2) had to deliver. Excess is the path to a swift and painful end. Or rather, in the case of Elvis Presley, not that swift, just very painful. According to the duty coroner of Memphis, who was called out to examine the King's body on the day he died, "Mr Presley underwent his terminal event when he was on the commode." His insides had compacted with "a clay-like substance", the residue of a million cheeseburgers, which had created colonic congestion on an M25 scale. In a desperate muscular squeeze to get the traffic flowing again, Elvis, the coroner's theory ran, put so much pressure on his cholesterol-furred heart, that his aorta burst. In short, there was absolutely nothing rock-and-roll about the King's ultimate demise: he died of constipation.

The only real surprise, given his prodigious appetite for burgers, was that he didn't peg out through mad cow disease. For his Highness's food intake was not based around the Mediterranean peasant diet. Instead, he spent a lifetime eating stuff biologically programmed to destroy.

And, in a lovely film by James Marsh, we discovered that burgers were just the start of it. Taking as his premise the old proverb that you are what you eat, Marsh drew up a profile of Elvis not so much through his musical habits as his dietary ones. These were formed in the Depression, when white trash like him were forced to hunt the wildlife to stave off starvation. Marsh, nicely parodying the foodie travelogue, found some of Elvis's former associates and had them at the cooker giving up some of their recipes. Thus, fried squirrel: take one squirrel, skin it, place large amount of lard in pan, dip squirrel pieces in flour and fry. Or fried peanut butter and banana sandwich: spread white bread with peanut butter and sliced banana, place large amount of butter in pan and fry. Or fried possum: take one possum, you get the general pattern. And as he grew rich, instead of developing his palate, Presley merely indulged in all the things he had missed out on as a child: those crazy, expensive, sophisticated dishes like hot dogs or barbecue pizza.

In the most telling of the many delightful interviews Marsh secured, one Royal aide revealed that his employer didn't eat in restaurants much because he felt uneasy eating with a knife and fork. As a rationale for Elvis's strange home-boy complex it was as sharp as any. It certainly explains why he never came to England: it's so difficult to get hold of fried chicken feet over here. Eventually the twin Presley addictions - bad food and pain-killers - came into lethal opposition. Incapable of feeling the pain of a bloated stomach, he just kept pitch-forking in the calories, until, like Mr Creosote in Monty Python's Life of Brian, he exploded.

Though, as the voices Marsh cunningly added over the credits explained, he did not die, but merely staged his own demise, and is presently alive, well and living in Cleethorpes. And this film finally explained why the man who invented rock and roll and became the biggest star in the known universe is always spotted stalking supermarkets. He's stocking up on peanut butter.

Burt Bacharach, on the other hand, could not look in better shape. According to BBC2's appreciation of his career, Burt Bacharach... This is Now, the man so middle-of-the-road he has a white line painted down his spine, has never been more popular, and performers like Elvis Costello and Noel Gallagher of Oasis queued up to laud his achievements. Nothing was said about his eating habits, although the slim, trim composer appears to suffer from one major problem: an Elvis-scale addiction to ghastly knitwear.

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