Cole Porter floated effortlessly for a time between worlds: Gay and straight, Europe and America, Broadway and Hollywood, show biz and high society. He had a lifelong love affair with his wife, and lifelong love affairs without his wife. He thrived, it seemed, on a lifestyle that would have destroyed other men (and was, in fact, illegal in most of the places that he lived), and all the time he wrote those magical songs. Then a horse fell down and crushed his legs, and he spent 27 years in pain. And still he wrote those magical songs.
“De-Lovely,” opening Nov. 18 at the Smith Opera House, is a musical and a biography, and brings to both of those genres a worldly sophistication that is rare in the movies. Sentimental and bittersweet, “De-Lovely” looks at the brilliant and unorthodox life of songwriter Cole Porter, played out nearly as much in song as in dialogue. It is both a look at genius and genius on display.
At its center is the relationship between the gay Porter (Kevin Kline) and his long-suffering wife Linda (Ashley Judd). In the film, theirs is love beyond the physical, although the physical gets tossed around here and there as well. Instead, it's a connection of spirits, a mutual admiration and, inevitably, a strain, mostly on Linda's patience.
As written by former film critic Jay Cocks, the film is a retrospective shown by the angel Gabriel (Jonathan Pryce) to the dying songwriter, a sort of greatest hits parade. It's a device that's been used before to lesser effect; the difference here is Porter had the hits to merit the device.
In addition to modern interpretations by on-screen singers including Elvis Costello (“Let's Misbehave”), Sheryl Crow (“Begin the Beguine”), Alanis Morissette (“Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love”), Diana Krall (“Just One of Those Things”), Vivian Green (“Love for Sale”), many of the songs are done ensemble or by Kline, singing with an affected weak voice to match Porter's unaffected weak voice, and have either the purity or razzmatazz they need.
The man was about music, but he was also a man, a fountain of sophisticated wit and near-wasted high society talent. The film introduces Cole and Linda in Paris, lets them traipse through Europe and then sends them off to conquer Broadway and, somewhat tragically, Hollywood, before facing their fading years.
The Smith Opera House screens “De-Lovely” at 7 p.m. Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. Nov. 21 and at 7 p.m. Nov. 22 and 23. It has a running time of two hours 5 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual content.
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursdays and $2 on Tuesdays. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to reserve tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.