De-Lovely: Special Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by Irwin Winkler
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 125 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Review Date: April 15, 2011
During the Hollywood heyday of the 1940s and 1950s, musical biographies of the legendary Broadway composers were legion. After the success of Yankee Doodle Dandy and the (greatly manufactured) story of George M. Cohan, the floodgates were open for biographies of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, Kalmar and Ruby, Sigmund Romberg, and DeSylva, Brown and Henderson. As biographies, the films were every one an aberration with a few true facts around which a mostly fictionalized story of each composer in question was spun and then sprinkled with elaborate musical numbers usually utilizing each studio’s roster of musical stars. Among the most financially successful of these was the Cole Porter biography Night and Day released in 1946. As a true look at the life of one of America’s most celebrated composer-lyricists, it was as far-fetched and wretched as the other musical biographies had been, but it did contain a great sampling of Porter’s work with an occasional guest star like Mary Martin performing the actual song which made her famous.
Irwin Winkler’s Cole Porter biography De-Lovely has the benefit of the entire Porter catalog at his disposal (when Night and Day was made, Porter hadn’t written his film scores to The Pirate, High Society, or Les Girls nor his stage scores for Kiss Me Kate, Out of This World, Can-Can, or Silk Stockings or his TV score for Aladdin) and the advantage of being made in a century when people are much more open to the true stories of people’s lives however scandalous such stories might have been sixty years earlier (though the true stories would never have been allowed under the MPAA production code of the time anyway). And yet, with these advantages, Winkler has produced a biographical film which is, in its own peculiar way, as phony and artificial as Night and Day was. Sure, Porter’s homosexuality is examined (if only superficially) and famous friends like Monty Woolley haven’t been turned into people they weren’t as Night and Day had done. But the film’s motif – Porter seconds before death examining highlights from his life as if it were a stage show with himself as the star – is stodgy and irritating and its usage allows the filmmakers to be as equally inaccurate about his songs’ origins and their placement within the spectrum of his entire career as Night and Day had been. In an effort to be so artsy, De-Lovely is pretentious and rather dull lacking almost any sense of style or period to give audiences unfamiliar with the man any sense of when he lived, how he worked, and what he produced and when.
Things go wrong with the movie very quickly with Porter (Kevin Kline) seen singing his composition “Well, Did You E’vah” for a party of people where he first meets Ashley Judd’s Linda Thomas (1918), a song he actually wrote almost twenty years later. From then on, it’s one misstep after another in terms of musical anachronisms (“Easy to Love,” “True Love,” “Be a Clown”), all presented decades too early in order to fit into the film’s asinine structure. To add insult to injury, the director has hired very contemporary artists as guest stars whose renditions of their Porter standards rarely suggest period. Among the offenders: Sheryl Crow with a dreary and musically transformed and thus almost unrecognizable “Begin the Beguine,” Elvis Costello wailing “Let’s Misbehave,” and for the worst, the nasally, tremulous Alanis Morissette doing Porter’s first hit “Let’s Do It.” During his career, Porter wrote five musicals for Ethel Merman, all of them smash hits, but apart from Caroline O'Connor doing a feeble Merman imitation on “Anything Goes” (voice only, her name is never mentioned), there’s no indication of his work in the actress’ behalf (Porter always maintained that Merman was his favorite singer; you’d never know it from this film).
Dramatically, things aren’t much better. While it’s clear that Cole and Linda had a symbiotic relationship that wasn’t much tied to physical desire but rather emotional support, the film doesn’t delve into their personal connection or Cole’s underground homosexual dalliances (apart from scenes with lots of pretty men occupying the frame without any real exploration of that side of his personality), and Linda’s needs are never touched on once she sees that she can’t in any way satisfy Cole’s sexual appetites. Jay Cocks’ script and Irwin Winkler’s direction lack dramatic focus and depth, and Winkler, one of the least stylish and expressive of directors, manages only one sequence that demonstrates some élan. To the tune of “Love for Sale,” we see Cole in a series of shots centered around a Hollywood club catering to gay men, all shot in one glorious take as the camera sweeps around the establishment as Cole makes various entrances with different men at his side or in his arms while dancing.
While Kevin Kline makes a reasonable facsimile for Cole Porter and excels dramatically especially convincing with the help of marvelous make-up effects by Sarah Monzani, this two-time Tony-winning musical actor in an attempt to mimic Porter’s thin, unexpressive singing voice, sings a great many songs slightly off pitch or with a breathy, nonprofessional air true to character but rather tiresome when such a hefty chunk of the film’s musical moments rests with his vocal cords. Ashley Judd also resembles Linda Lee Thomas Porter, but she’s been let down by Jay Cocks’ script with his not delineating much about her character for the actress to perform. She rather fades into the background through much of the movie. Porter’s lifelong friend from Yale Gerald Murphy is ably performed by Kevin McNally, but again Cocks’ script doesn’t ever tell the audience exactly why this man and his family meant so much to Porter and his wife. Allan Corduner isn’t given much to do as Monty Woolley, but Richard Dillane as Bill Wrather, the fictionalized valet for a large part of his later life, has a few touching moments.
The film’s Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is quite excellent throughout the presentation, and color saturation levels are rich without ever being overdone. Flesh tones are likewise solid and appealing. Black levels are the transfer’s weak link as they’re never better than good, but otherwise they don’t impact the otherwise outstanding image quality. The film has been divided into 36 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is rather undistinguished. For a musical, there is a lack of truly impressive width and breadth in the soundstage even during musical numbers, and the dramatic scenes all lack much ambiance. Dialogue is excellently recorded and the lyrics are all easily discernible, all of which emanate from the center channel.
There are two audio commentaries included with this special edition. Director Irwin Winkler is present on both of them. In the first, he’s joined by actor Kevin Kline and in the second, his co-commentator is screenwriter Jay Cocks. Many of the same anecdotes get repeated from one track to another, but as all of the men are enthusiastic participants in the film, they let their praise for each other and support of the project sometimes get out of hand.
All of the bonus features are presented in 480i unless otherwise noted.
“The Making of De-Lovely” is a 25 ¾-minute overview of the film and its facets with Irwin Winkler doing much of the talking. He discusses the casting of the leads, the elaborate aging make-up used in the movie, the Armani clothes the stars wear, and music choices made for the movie including the recording of much of Kline’s singing and piano playing live and the selection of guest stars for the film.
“The Music of De-Lovely” offers brief interviews with musical guest stars Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morissette, Diana Krall, Sheryl Crow, and Natalie Cole talking about the songs they sing in the picture. It runs 15 ¼ minutes.
“Anatomy of a Scene: Be a Clown” shows behind-the-scenes recording and rehearsals for the “Be a Clown” number in the movie featuring the film’s choreographer Francesca Jaynes, and stars Kevin Kline and Peter Polycarpou.
“Anatomy of a Scene: Love for Sale” is an interesting 3 ¼-minute piece showing how that effective musical sequence was filmed with multiple wardrobe changes for the principals.
There are eight deleted scenes which can be viewed individually or in one 14 ½-minute grouping. The film’s alternate ending is also available for viewing in a 3 ½-minute clip.
The movie’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs for 2 ¼ minutes.
3/5 (not an average)
De-Lovely in its own way is as flawed a musical biography of the great Cole Porter as the earlier Night and Day was. However, the Blu-ray presents the film with a beautiful video transfer and almost all of bonus features ported over from the previous DVD release.