Cole Porter was one of the great poets of his time, something you can appreciate when browsing through The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter. He set his lyrics to beautiful tunes that were impeccably rendered by the greatest stars of the musical stage, back in the days when performers actually –- and simultaneously — enunciated, sang, and danced. He was also famous, glamorous, rich and successful, so it’s no wonder that there are 2 movies about his life. The most recent is De-lovely.
De-lovely has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the Porter music. Contemporary artists do the singing, including two of the leads, Kevin Kline and Jonathan Price, both veterans of the musical stage. Of the other singers, the most amusing was Elvis Costello singing “Let’s Misbehave”. The weirdest was Sheryl Crow singing ”Begin the Beguine” in an odd arrangement worlds away from Benny Goodman’s clarinet instrumental. I’m undecided as to buying the soundtrack, but went home and listened to a Cole Porter CD anyway. The film takes a lot of liberties as to the actual history of Porter’s career. Overall, however, the audience at the theater I went to was smiling throughout the songs and even applauded at the end of the film. The film also has lovely locations, beautiful houses, elegant gowns for Ashley Judd, and Armani suits for Kevin Klein. For product placement, Johnny Walker Red is placed atop grand pianos.
The script makes much of the songs’ subtext in view of Mr. Porter’s sexuality. This plot device might or might not be adequate, depending on your point of view. I never knew either Cole Porter or his wife, but if one’s to judge by his lyrics, it seems to me that the real-life Cole Porter possibly was not as conflicted as the movie makes him up to be. At least the movie opens the possibility that, aside from Cartier cigarette cases, Linda gave Cole a most rare gift, that of total acceptance. The NYTimes critic panned that aspect of the film,
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
and I tend to agree, but without ruling out that the real-life Mrs. Porter was a wife, not simply a rich “beard”. There’s more to sex than just sex, after all.
Yale alumni should be warned beforehand that, unlike Night And Day, De-lovely doesn’t have any of the Yale football songs. Missing also from both films are the naughty lyrics to You’re The Top, but you can find those on page 171 of the Complete Lyrics book.