The popular Porter moved effortlessly between a variety of worlds: straight and Gay, Art Deco Europe and robust America, well-dressed Broadway and money-machine Hollywood, show biz delis and high society dinners. He had a lifelong love affair with his wife, as well as lifelong love affairs without his wife. He thrived wherever he settled, enjoying a lifestyle that would have overwhelmed other men, and which was, in fact, illegal in some of the places that he lived. He was born in 1891 in Peru, Indiana. His father was a pharmacist and his grandfather was a true coal and timber baron. Porters family had money. The movie has a couple of weaknesses, one of which is that it doesnt detail enough of Porters genesis as a composer. He actually began composing when he was ten years old. And it seems that writing music was a breeze for him. We want to know why. In 1937, at the height of his fame, he was riding at the home of a Countess in Locust Valley, New York when he fell off the horse. The animal also toppled and crushed both of the composers legs. Over the years, Porter endured dozens of operations and massive pain. Through it all, he wrote his magical songs. He thrived and survived. Before he died in 1964, he had written some of the most fabled and popular Broadway shows every crafted. De-Lovely exists as both a musical and a biography, and brings to the screen a worldly sophistication that is rare in todays era of crass pop culture. Compare it, for example, to Night And Day, the 1946 biographical picture that stars Cary Grant as a very heterosexual Porter. De-Lovely not only accepts Porters duality, but also bases the movie on it. His clever and witty lyrics take on a delicious ambiguity once you realize they are not necessarily written about love with a woman.
Although married, in what most people would call a very modern marriage, it would seem, based on what happens in De-Lovely, that on many evenings Porter was free to do as he pleased. Yet, his wife, Linda Lee Porter, was obviously the love and solace of his life. For her part, she accepted him as he was. One night in Paris, they put their cards on the table. You know then, that I have other interests, he says. Linda replies, Like men. Porter replies, Yes, men. His wifes response: You like them more than I do. Nothing is cruel if it fulfills your promise. Dialogue like this is rarely heard in American movies. There is a certain wistful nature to the couples relationship. The key for the filmmakers, especially when Linda is no longer enamored of the lifestyle but still loves her husband, is to make certain that the woman does not come across as one more bitter fag hag. To everyones credit, especially Ashley Judds, who superbly plays Mrs. Porter, she doesnt.
As for the actor playing Porter, well, Kevin Kline is nothing less than terrific. In addition to his acting talents, Kline plays the piano, which allows for a lot of convincing time at the keyboard. The movie opens with an elderly Porter and a producer (Jonathan Pryce) watching a memory-filled rehearsal for a musical based on the composers life. Through flashbacks we take a tour of Porters world. Cole and Linda met in Paris at that time in the 1920s when expatriate Americans were creating a new kind of lifestyle. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were there, too, and Ernest Hemingway, and the movie features as the Porters best friends the famous American exile couple Sara and Gerald Murphy, who are the model for Fitzgeralds Tender is the Night.
Having been born into money, Porter made a lot more and knew how to spend it, whether it was on parties in Venice, high-toned travel, or fabulous gifts. Lindas sense of style matched her husbands perfectly. The movie is a canvas of sleek style and glamorous fashions. The couple always looked freshly pressed, always seemed at ease, always had the last sophisticated word, even if beneath the surface there was a lot of drinking and a series of compromises. The cigarette smoking that would kill Linda was at first an expression of freedom, but at the end seems like a defense mechanism. The movie details how, before every show, Linda would give Cole a bejeweled cigarette case, something that symbolized the production and becomes an iconographic moment in their lives.
The films flashback structure allows the weakened Porter to revisit the joyful days of his life. De-Lovely is filled with Porters magnificent songs, and many of them are sung by contemporary singing stars, a smart device that blends in well with events on screen. We see and hear Natalie Cole, Robbie Williams, Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, and Sheryl Crow take on Porter tunes. I thought Crows interpretation of Begin The Beguine was off-base, but you might consider that a quibble. The movie contains much more music than most musicals, but it is not a concert film because the songs illuminate the material. Watching the film, we are reminded how exhilarating the classic American songbook is. De-Lovely isnt raw or edgy like the movie version of Chicago, but its as good. I hope moviegoers embrace it. In addition to the outstanding songs, the film is forthright in how it examines the relationship between Cole and Linda. Some might proclaim that they never found a completely, passionate, satisfying romance, but they would be wrong, proving they dont understand the dynamics of the human condition and the myriad possibilities of complicated friendships.
De-Lovely does it right and delivers an emotional wallop. It gets into your head and under your skin. And with all of that glorious music, it should also dance into your heart. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Musicals were a staple of old Hollywood. Out of the Golden Age Of Movies came thousands of tune-filled films and some of them are extraordinarily good. MGM had a lock on great musicals, but, of course, other studios attempted these sprightly story-lines and jazzy stylings, but nobody did it better than Leo The Lion.
Legendary composer Cole Porter, who wrote both words and music, is an icon to fans of Hollywood musicals. In addition to his Broadway output (many of his shows were turned into movies), Porter answered the call to head west. His overall work includes Panama Hattie, Rosalie, Kiss Me Kate, Silk Stockings, Youll Never Get Rich, Anything Goes, and The Gay Divorcee. Many individual songs Porter composed were used over and over again in a variety of movies. His Begin The Beguine can be heard as a full song or as background in more than four dozen films. Moviemakers across the board and around the world have enhanced a filmed moment with a Porter tune such as Night And Day or Youre The Top.