De-Lovely

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            The hardest kind of history to portray is the recent stuff.  If you are a young filmmaker, how do you get a fix on the mindset of a generation in the twenties or thirties when there are still enough living witnesses to argue with you.  Time will eventually blur the images, and the atmosphere of the times will be re-interpreted through the ages.  But people still remember the 1920s. 

            So it is with ďDe-LovelyĒ, a screen biography of Cole Porter. It seems accurate enough to suggest that those in his generation who had financial security and made the most noise, danced, literally, around the top of the pyramid.  Song and dance, Broadway, smoking, drinking, glorious clothes for men and women, networking - how much good life can money buy?  The composer went to Yale and Harvard Law School and cavorted with the artists and intellectuals of Post World War I Europe and New York.

            How well director Irwin Winkler captures the scene will depend on your personal memories of other generations.  He tries hard, and if he isnít too successful in his casting of actors who seem awkward and wooden in a time of lightness, he is hugely so in reminding us of what Cole Porter wrote for Broadway.  There is not a comparable body of music that has crossed from the theater to the mainstream with the consistency and power of Porterís.  Think of it:  Night and Day, De-Lovely, Letís Fall in Love Ė and the scores for Kiss Me Kate and Anything Goes.

            His personal life, tackled here in depth, is far more complex, and all of it is reflected in his music.  Before his marriage to Linda Porter, her husband told her he was gay.  The bright and lovely Linda adored Cole Porter, married him anyway and helped shepherd his gifts to the public.  With time, it became harder to accept his second life without bitterness. 

A calamitous riding accident finally left Porter physically twisted and angry.  The sexuality, the adulation, the humiliation, and the fall - all of it is unremittingly sad.  Director Winkler tries to capture a social period to the lilt of Porterís show tunes.  With his wide-ranging talents, Kevin Kline grasps the composerís well-documented vulnerabilities and appetites.  Ashley Judd tries endearingly hard, but doesnít break out of certain stiffness.

  Gerald and Sarah Murphy exemplify my premise:  they arenít my Murphys, but in a few years there will be fewer people with close reading knowledge of them.  The imagery will dim.  In another generation, Porterís music will still soar (My thirteen year old movie buddy went straight home to download Porterís work from Itunes to her Ipod).

            It is astonishing to listen to all those fragments of songs knowing that their elegance and cleverness will carry them forward and knowing also that the man who poured his personal life into them was a tortured soul.  Flawed as the movie may be, both the joy and sadness of his wonderful music stays with you.


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