Archive for August, 2004

1st August
2004
written by Mad Cow

Rating: PG-13 for sexual content (gay stuff, dear dear)

Mad Cow’s Rating:

If you love romance, old movie musicals and the music of Cole Porter, you’ll love this movie. A musical in the spirit of grand old musicals, the film provides a respite to the stress and politics of the rest of the world. And it’s about a gay man at that.

Directed by Irwin Winkler and written by Jay Cocks, De-Lovely tells the story of Cole Porter’s adult life and career as a flashback reviewed by old man Porter as perhaps a final assessment of his years. Kevin Kline as Cole and Ashley Judd as his wife Linda Lee, glow and glide through the movie. The other characters, played by Jonathan Pryce, Keith Allen, Allan Corduner, Edward Baker-Duly, Angie Hill, and Harry Ditson, provide a very competent ensemble but are purposely secondary to the celebrated two. Cole, Linda, and the lush houses and landscapes of the rich are the main draws.

Kline and Judd are obviously having a wonderful time together. He singe, he dances, he sweeps her and everyone else off their feet. Judd is marvelous throughout, with a smart, knowing smile that exudes sophistication and intelligence. The two resonate with the chemistry of two people who really love each other.

Those of us who know nothing about Porter’s life have to take the film at face value. When they married Linda knew he had “other interests,” but married him anyway. He was free to have one-nighters and affairs with men. Yet he was devoted as well to his wife. He said “I wanted every kind of love that was available, but I could never find them in the same person, or the same sex.” This is likely true of more of us than we’d care to admit.

Throughout the movie, Porter’s songs accompany and illustrate the themes of his life, with present-day singers performing. Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole, Robbie Williams and Diana Krall each have a go, with interpretations that are perhaps more up-to-date, but never diverting too much from the romance. Kline, who reportedly had to learn to sing less well than he actually can, give Cole’s singing a personal meaning.

Cole experienced an accident in mid-life that left him in pain for many years. It’s sad to know that this plot twist, often the stuff of fiction, was only too real in his life. Yet the other pain in his life, that we queers know about very well, is absent here.

The movie is unambiguous about Cole’s sexual orientation, from his frequenting gay bars to his and Linda’s awkward try at procreation, via Cole’s unexpected visit to Linda’s separate bedroom one night. Cole visits gay bars, which look appropriate for the time, beds young male admirers, and seems to have trysts in Central Park as well. What we don’t see is the fear that must have been involved.

Gay activity was against the law everywhere, and almost any “evidence” would suffice. Gay men and lesbians then were at great risk of arrest when bars were raided, and once in jail, at risk of beating and rape. Gay bashing in the park was surely a sport then as it is now. Porter undoubtedly had some close calls, if not actual experience, of these things. As it is, he was subject to blackmail.

One questionable choice in the movie was the sultry rendition of “Love for Sale” as sung by Vivian Green in a gay bar. Of course the number is lovely and sexy and sad and wonderful, but turns on the stereotype of gay bars as an underworld of sleaze and salaciousness. It may have been dangerous to go there, but only because of the dangers outside, not inside.

We don’t find out much about Linda except that she supported Cole’s career and periodically was saddened by Cole’s sudden absences. She tried to move him away from the men in his life, seeking more attention for herself. Elsewhere I’ve heard that she had affairs, but here she’s an enigma. What did she do with her time? What did she think about when she wasn’t thinking about him?

It’s a credit to Judd and Winkler that Linda comes across as a strong person who may have suffered but was not a victim. We don’t pity her. She is not the typical long-suffering wife. And incredibly, this is a story about how two married people loved each other passionately but not physically. It’s all very believable.

Romances are generally formulaic and tend towards happy endings or tragic endings. Here we feel sad, perhaps because none of us gets exactly all that we expected we would. But we feel happy too, because there is a great deal of beauty and love in the unexpected peculiar realities of life.

As I watched this movie I thought of the Fred Astaire movies of the 30s and 40s which I adore. (For this, I’ve been accused of actually being a gay man and not a lesbian.) The American public loved these escapes from the hardships and fear of the Depression and World War II. In these days of Homeland Security warnings, this movie is just the thing.

The bottom line is that Cole Porter, throughout his complicated life, made millions happy through his music, which never stopped. We can still be swept away by it. I was made very happy by this movie and so will your conservative Aunt Mabel, if she loves old music. And she might learn some rudimentary facts about some forms of love.

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