Movies at the library: Celebrating Cole Porter

REPORTER STAFF PHOTO | The library will screen “De-Lovely” a musical valentine to Cole Porter and his work.

Say the name “Cole Porter” and chances are some catchy, favorite tune comes to mind.  “I Love Paris,” “You Do Something to Me,” “You’re the Top,” “Begin the Beguine” and “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” are just a few of the witty, sophisticated, romantic tunes Porter contributed to the great American songbook.

“De-Lovely,” the imaginative and touching 2004 bio-pic directed by Irwin Winkler and written by Jay Cocks, celebrates Porter and the myriad tunes we remember so well. It also fondly evokes a time when high-spirited musicals like Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” were a staple of the Broadway theatre. Indeed, the film “De-Lovely” is a valentine to those times, that man and his music; 28 of Porter’s songs are included on the track. “De-Lovely” will be shown at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 19, downstairs at the library.

The movie is framed as a stroll down Memory Lane for Porter, with a mysterious character named Gabe as his tour guide. Gabe may be a theatrical producer staging a revue of Porter’s work, or he may be the Angel Gabriel, reviewing the joys of Porter’s early life with him as it nears its sad end. Either way, the window onto Porter’s past opens in Paris in 1919, at the moment he first sees Linda Lee, the socialite divorcée who will become his wife, the great love of his life, his emotional and artistic anchor.

“God, she was gorgeous,” Porter exclaims to Gabe.  But there are complications, and early on Porter puts his cards on the table with Linda. “You know I have other interests,” he says. “Like men,” she replies. “Yes, men,” Porter acknowledges. Linda accepts him as he is, secure in his devotion to her and in the strength of their feelings for each other.

“I wanted every kind of love that was available,” Porter explains to Gabe. “But I could never find them in the same person or the same sex.”

Such dialogue requires a deft actor, and Kevin Kline is beautifully cast in the starring role. He makes Porter’s elegance — and the demons of melancholy that sometimes plague him — not just believable, but sympathetic as well. And he gives us insight into the tantalizing ambiguity of some of Porter’s lyrics.

“It’s the wrong game, with the wrong chips. Though your lips are tempting, they’re the wrong lips. They’re not her lips, but they’re such tempting lips. That if one night you’re free …”

It is only when scandal — in the form of blackmail — threatens that Linda gives up on Cole. She returns to Paris from Hollywood, where Porter has dived into the subterranean gay world without restraint or discretion. Yet, when a horse falls on him, leaving Porter crippled and in pain for the rest of his life, she returns.

In Linda’s care he resumes writing songs, and it is in the scenes of the two of them, both victims of their own excesses, suddenly old, that “De-Lovely” becomes its most affecting. These two are, after all, each other’s only one. As in Porter’s lyric, “Night and day, you are the one. Only you beneath the moon and under the sun …”

Ashley Judd gives a fine, nuanced performance as Linda Lee Porter. Jonathan Pryce is Gabe. Kevin McNally and Sandra Nelson appear as Gerald and Sarah Murphy; Keith Allen is Irving Berlin. Janty Yates and John Bush earn special thanks for elegant costume design and lush set decoration respectively. Credit pictures are by Saul Steinberg.

“De-Lovely,” in color, runs 125 minutes. Bring a pal with you to see it next Tuesday evening; you’ll both go home humming.

— Janet Roach