[Dixielandjazz] Cole Porter's Bio Movie Review

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 3 12:38:52 PDT 2004

Well, I'll still see it, but the below review surely pans "De-Lovely".
Ah well, at least it will point out some of the double entendre lyrics
in music whose existence many of us seem to deny.


July 2, 2004 - NY Times Review


Jazz Age Gaiety With Misery Below the Gloss


      Near the end of "De-Lovely," the lethally inert new cinematic
portrait of Cole Porter, the composer (Kevin Kline) and his wife, Linda
(Ashley Judd), attend a private screening in Los Angeles of "Night and
Day," Porter's notoriously inaccurate, sugar-coated but commercially
successful 1946 screen biography. After the blissful final clinch of
Cary Grant and Alexis Smith in a movie that exalts the Porters'
regulation Hollywood-perfect union, "De-Lovely" shows the composer
turning to his wife and remarking, "If I can survive this, I can survive

But I wonder if Porter, who died in 1964, could have survived
"De-Lovely," a movie so lifeless and drained of genuine joie de vivre it
makes you long for the largely fictional earlier film. "Night and Day,"
after all, starred Cary Grant. When you think about it, what man in his
right mind wouldn't be flattered by having Grant as his screen
alter-ego? I seriously question whether watching the suave, handsome
actor in his prime was an embarrassment that the physically unglamorous
Porter felt he had to survive.

"Night and Day" at least had a sense of style. It may be factually
absurd, but it glides along like a Porter song — say, "Begin the
Beguine." Watching "De-Lovely," which unfolds as a bumpy, muddled "This
Is Your Life" series of confusing, overcrowded tableaus, you have the
creepy sense of watching adult children (with the singular exception of
Mr. Kline, who can surmount any disaster) dressed up in period costume
at a school pageant. Ms. Judd's performance, in particular, is clueless
as to style. She seems to imagine that tilting her chin up to snob
level, narrowing her eyes and maintaining precise elocution is all it
takes to evoke class.

The advance publicity for "De-Lovely," which opens today nationwide, has
gone out of its way to pat the movie on the back for its supposed
candor. True, this biography, directed by Irwin Winkler, from an
appallingly stilted screenplay by Jay Cocks, differs from its forerunner
by acknowledging Porter's homosexuality. But its attitude toward sex is,
in a word, dainty.

Coyly seductive glances exchanged between men across a room are not the
same as the torrid encounters and fantasies of those encounters that
fueled Porter's songs. The heat in a film about the man who wrote "Too
Darn Hot" remains a steady, air-conditioned 68 degrees. The most
lascivious scene is a howlingly ridiculous moment when Porter's pal and
partner in after-hours adventure, Monty Woolley (Allan Corduner), jumps
out of the horse-drawn carriage taking the two of them through Central
Park at night and announces with a neon leer that he is going for a walk
in the Ramble.

Porter's incandescent love songs voiced an obsessive sexual romanticism.
His lyrics, packed with juicy double-entendres, dripped with eroticism
and a connoisseur's appreciation of the erotic life and its
roller-coaster peaks and valleys. "De-Lovely" simply cannot imagine a
world before the age of Oprah and
Dr. Phil, before television decreed that sexual gratification and
maintaining a hot body were the most important things in life. It can't
imagine a wealthy, sophisticated couple marrying for friendship and
social advantage without that arrangement involving torment and guilt
over its lack of sex.

A scene in the new movie in which a contrite Porter tells his wife that
he'll try to stop seeing men and be faithful stands out as a moment of
especially meretricious psychodrama. And in making much of Linda's
miscarriage, the movie implies Porter was more sexually ambiguous than,
by most accounts, he actually was.

The episodes in Porter's life are constructed around a painfully
contrived framing device. The depressed, elderly Porter, alone in his
suite in the Waldorf Towers near the end of his life, is visited by a
mysterious stranger (could it be the Angel of Death?) named Gabe
(Jonathan Pryce) who transports him to an empty theater where Gabe is
overseeing a stage show of Porter's life. From Paris in the 1920's, the
movie jumps to Venice, Los Angeles, Connecticut and New York. Feeble
screen parodies of Irving Berlin and Louis B. Mayer appear and vanish.
And two of Porter's closest friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy, the un-Jazz
Age couple, hang around in the background. They're so vapid that when
one of their children dies, you have to strain your memory to figure out
the reason for Porter's grief.

The composer's carefree years ended abruptly in 1937 when a riding
accident fractured both his legs and left him in acute pain for the rest
of his life. But he continued to be productive, turning out his
masterpiece, "Kiss Me Kate," in 1948. In 1958 (four years after Linda's
death from emphysema), the amputation of his right leg broke his spirit,
and he spent his last six years in a stony depression, dulled by drugs
and alcohol.

Mr. Kline, who has always played sexual ambiguity with a special
lightness, subtlety and understanding, faces off heroically against the
wooden dialogue. And the scenes of the embittered composer in his final
years are the movie's most emotionally resonant.

Two dozen Porter songs are glossed by contemporary singers like Elvis
Costello ("Let's Misbehave"), Alanis Morissette ("Let's Do It, Let's
Fall in Love"), Sheryl Crow (a weird minor-key version of "Begin the
Beguine") and Diana Krall ("Just One of Those Things"). If they're not
awful, these labored, self-conscious interpretations are undercut by
flimsy period arrangements.

It didn't have to be like this. In their highly stylized ways, "All That
Jazz" (Bob Fosse's morbidly manic screen autobiography), Ken Russell's
surreal portraits of composers or any of Federico Fellini's libidinous
self-explorations have delved deeply into the muck of artistic
creativity. Sadly, the daring and imagination
required to go below the surface are nowhere to be found in "De-Lovely."

"De-Lovely" is rated PG-13 (Parental guidance suggested) for some risqué


Directed by Irwin Winkler; written by Jay Cocks; director of
photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Julie Monroe; music by Cole
Porter; production designer, Eve Stewart; produced by Irwin Winkler, Rob
Cowan and Charles Winkler; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.
Running time: 125 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Kevin Kline (Cole Porter), Ashley Judd (Linda Porter), Jonathan
Pryce (Gabe), Allan Corduner (Monty Wolley), Kevin McNally (Gerald
Murphy) and Sandra Nelson (Sara Murphy); musical performances by Robbie
Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Mick Hucknall,
Diana Krall, Vivian Green, Mario Frangoulis and Natalie Cole.

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