2004 by Tony Medley
As Santa Monica
piano arranger/performer Bill Augustine, says, ďThe only way to kill
Cole Porter is to mess with his music.Ē And thatís exactly what
Producer/Director Irwin Winkler does in De-Lovely.
Porter (Kevin Kline)
wrote wonderful songs, but the film doesnít let us enjoy them because
it interrupts about half of the numbers by starting a song, then cutting
to dialogue, like Cole talking to his wife, Linda (Ashley Judd), and
then cutting back to the song. The first song to be so shabbily treated
was a captivating production number of Anything Goes. I wanted to
see the entire number with the singing and dancing uninterrupted. Alas,
it was not to be. Other songs that were so interrupted by dialogue were
the wonderful Another Openiní, Another Show and Just One of
Those Things. Some numbers were shown straight through, however,
with no interruptions, like the terrific production number Be A
Clown, sung by Porter and Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) on the
old MGM lot in Culver City, and I Love You.
Another thing that I
didnít like about the movie was that you donít learn much about the
genealogy of the songs, how, when, and why they were written, with a few
exceptions. In fact, some are basic misrepresentations. One of the first
production numbers is Well, Did You Evah, sung in Paris during
World War I when Cole and Linda first meet. While itís a charming
performance, the song was written in 1939, not 1918, for DuBarry Was
A Lady, and the lyrics were rewritten for a Frank Sinatra-Bing
Crosby duet in the movie High Society (1955), 16 years later.
Linda sings True Love sometime in the 1930s despite the fact that
it was actually written for High Society (Crosby and Grace Kelly)
after Linda had died.
This is an
avant-garde way to tell the life story of Cole Porter to the detriment
of his music and his life. What diminished it for me was the flashback
method of telling the story. It starts out with Porter an old man
watching some sort of heavenly stage telling of his story with Gabe
(Jonathan Pryce), as what looks like the Producer, sitting in a vacant
theater watching along with Cole and making comments. The problem with
this is that the vibrancy of Porterís life is constantly flashing
forward into the depressing ambience of a dying (already dead?) man.
Linda Porter must
have been an unusually saintly woman, to have put up with Coleís
homosexual infidelities (shown by several scenes of Kline kissing other
men on the lips) all those years, and remaining devotedly in love with
him, at least as portrayed by Judd. In the first half of the film
Juddís performance seemed forced to me, but in the second hour she
finds her rhythm and is the best thing in the movie at that point. Her
short death scene is particularly moving.
musicals, 90% of Klineís singing is live rather than lip-synced.
Unfortunately, Klineís voice is not up to the songs. When we hear the
professional singers (Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow,
Diana Krall, among others) performing the songs, Klineís inadequate
voice becomes apparent. It is especially glaring when Kline starts
singing So In Love and Winkler then cuts to Mario Frangoulis
singing it on stage.
an astonishing ending, Gabe tells Cole, ďNever begin with a ballad and
never end with a ballad,Ē and the movie cuts from a slow ballad to an
uptempo production number, Blow, Gabriel, Blow. Had the movie
taken its own advice, it would have ended there. Instead, Winkler cuts
back and ends it on a slow ballad! If he read his script (Jay Cocks), he
didnít believe it. And if he doesn't, why should we?
June 29, 2004