Cole Porter (1891 – 1964) is a composer and popular songwriter with two musical biopics that explore his life story: Night and Day (Michael Curtiz, 1946) and De-Lovely (Irwin Winkler, 2004). Due to their time of release and production the films offer different interpretations of Cole Porter’s life through musical integration, narrative content, star casting and genre characteristics. Star casting in De-Lovely and Night and Day transforms the way the film audience interprets the protagonist. Casting for a musical biopic is significant as it changes the perception of both the character and the actor. Several popular music artists appear in De-Lovely, not as specific characters but as performers/singers of Porter’s music. The following will explore the function of the popular music artists in the film as well as the casting of Kevin Kline as Cole Porter in comparison to Cary Grant in Night and Day. In terms of genre characteristics, De-Lovely is recognised as what Altman refers to as the ‘backstage musical’ (1987). The genre categorisation can be identified in the narrative premise of the film. The over-arching plot in De-Lovely is that Cole Porter (in the final days before his death) witnesses his life re-enacted through a musical onstage. This stage musical then becomes the diegetic film narrative. A discussion concerning the backstage musical and the function of the contemporary self-reflexive approach will conclude the analysis of De-Lovely and how style and form effects interpretation of content.
The following discussion will analyse particular musical numbers throughout De-Lovely and discuss how the narrative informs and alters the perception of the music; especially how this intersects with Porter’s homosexuality. John Kenneth Muir identifies that, “By the time [director] Irwin Winkler … approached screenwriter and former movie critic Jay Cocks about De-Lovely, movie mores had changed dramatically in America. In particular, homosexuality had come out of the Hollywood closet, meaning that Porter’s story could be told without ‘covering up’ certain aspects” (2005, 250). The issue of homosexuality becomes integrated into a majority of the musical numbers in the film and informs how contemporary audiences interpret the music of Cole Porter and how this perception has changed since the release of Night and Day during the studio-era.
De-Lovely is a film that reflects Porter’s homosexuality; an issue not represented in Night and Day. Although there will be comparisons between these two musical biopics, the principal argument of this paper is not to map out how they contrast but how De-Lovely is able to bring the issue of homosexuality in to the narrative through casting and musical integration. In Dennis Bingham’s crucial study of the contemporary biopic he asserts that:
The biopic narrates, exhibits, and celebrates the life of a subject in order to demonstrate, investigate, or question his or her importance in the world; to illuminate the fine points of a personality… Private behaviours and actions and public events as they might have been in the person’s time are formed together and interpreted dramatically. At the heart of the biopic is the urge to dramatize actuality and find in it the filmmaker’s own version of truth (2010, 10).
Through close analysis of De-Lovely in relation to Night and Day, this paper argues that the contemporary musical biopic reflects the perspectives and interpretations of the filmmakers; the film exemplifies that Porter’s sexuality was as significant as it formed and influenced his music career. Cole Porter is perceived as a homosexual male in De-Lovely mainly because the filmmakers were permitted to (as opposed to the strict regulations maintained in the Hollywood studio-era). Through self-reflexivity, De-Lovely draws attention to how issues of time, place, film genre, cast and creative personnel influence the audio-visual representations of a star.
Sexuality in Cole Porter’s Music
Biographer William McBrien discusses the link between his homosexuality and Porter’s music upon surveying his love letters to male companions: “The passion here may startle those who know Porter only from the nonchalant persona he chose to present in society. But these words help those who are moved by Porter’s songs to understand the origins of the ardor that is replicated in lyrics and in his throbbing rhythms and intoxicating melodies” (1998, 97). McBrien implies that followers of the music of Cole Porter during the 1940s and 1950s were not aware of his sexual connections to various men because of the era in which he commenced his career. “Eventually, in the early 1960s, the Hollywood Production Code officially ended its thirty-year-old ban on homosexual content, allowing for more manifest – if still mostly derogatory – images of queer people and queer concerns” (Benshoff and Griffin 2006, 87). Now that the censorship codes in the cinema have changed (reflective of changed morals and values in society), the most significant narrational aspect of De-Lovely is Cole Porter’s homosexuality. Not only because it was not overtly displayed in Night and Day, but also because in De-Lovely the visual representation of the music offers a new interpretation of how Porter’s music can be perceived. A conversation between Linda Lee (Ashley Judd) and Porter (Kevin Kline) in De-Lovely makes this clear:
Lee: Your music comes from your talent, not from your behaviour.
Porter: It’s all the same thing. I can’t put my talent here and my behaviour here and my eating habits and sleeping habits and drinking habits… it’s all me!
The film reinforces the idea that all of the various facets that make up Cole Porter, in some form, influence his music. Most of which represented and constantly pressed upon in De-Lovely, are linked back to his queer relationships. No matter what Porter encounters throughout the biopic, whether concerning his career or personal circumstances, it all ends up leading back to his homosexuality that is reinforced through the musical numbers discussed below.
Cole Porter in Night and Day
Before De-Lovely was produced, Night and Day was released in 1946 while Porter’s career was still active. This, along with the production codes that were still in effect at the time, had a significant influence over the structure of this studio-era musical biopic. Furthermore, it was made to fit into the previously constructed (musical) genre mould that was required at the time. In Wayne M. Bryant’s words, “The 1946 film Night and Day presented a straightened version of Cole Porter’s life, with bisexual actor Cary Grant in the lead role and Alexis Smith as his wife. Porter’s gay friend Monty Wooley appears in the film as a heterosexual version of himself” (2005, 116). It is clear that the film adheres to the regulations concerning representations of sexuality by developing characters that appear heterosexual, who are based on actual individuals who are homosexual. As Muir discloses, “The artists behind Night and Day had no other choice in their style of presentation because the Motion Picture Production Code of the day did not permit any indication, let alone dramatization, of homosexuality” (2005, 249). Therefore, the makers of De-Lovely took the opportunity to represent this important aspect of Porter’s life.
George F. Custen discusses Cole Porter’s contribution to Night and Day:
Well aware of the conventions of show-business biographies, and experienced in business negotiations concerning artistic properties, Porter was willing to sign away certain of his biographical rights as part of the business of putting on a show. To this end, he, his wife, and mother signed release forms allowing six-foot-two inch Cary Grant and youthful Alexis Smith to impersonate the diminutive (five foot six inch) balding Porter and his older wife in a film that bore only the most superficial resemblance to their actual lives (1994, 160).
Porter’s relationship with the makers of Night and Day is also visualised in De-Lovely where Porter and Lee attend a private screening of the biopic. The couple watch the film in its entirety, through to the concluding scene where the characters Porter (Cary Grant) and Lee (Alexis Smith) reunite and embrace each other. As the house lights come back on in the theatre Porter states, “If I can survive this movie I can survive anything”. Both Lee and Porter appear to be aged, grey and wrinkled; polar opposites of their Hollywood film counterparts. Porter in particular is frail, noticeable in his pain as he descends the stairs, post-horse riding accident. They discuss the casting of Cary Grant and happy Hollywood endings, seeming nonchalant about the fabricated Hollywood representations. The two merely intend the film to bring success and assist in Porter’s career progression. The scene demonstrates that Night and Day is a fictitious adaptation of Porter’s life to the screen and follows the generic studio musical format of the time.
Other issues relating to accuracy and fabrication appear throughout De-Lovely as an old Porter watches his life re-imagined on the stage, he finds that there are some scenes that he is uncomfortable with; mostly in regard to his unconventional relationship with his wife. The director, Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) retorts that it is not his choice; he has no say in the matter and has no control over the representations (as opposed to his authority in Night and Day). As well as De-Lovely, Night and Day received mixed reviews from audiences and film reviewers:
Despite generally lukewarm reviews by skeptical critics, who knew better than to accept this version of Cole Porter’s life as anything but Hollywood fantasy, everyone loved Grant’s acting and even his campy singing in a memorable rendition ‘You’re the Top’. Whenever Porter was asked how he felt about it, he insisted he loved the film as well, but he was always quick to qualify his opinion with the disclaimer that there wasn’t a word of truth in it (Eliot 2004, 244).
That is not to say that De-Lovely has any truth in it or more so than Night and Day; both films contain inaccuracies that exemplify the unimportance of facts and focus more on imagination and interpretation. Contemporary musical biopics are inspired by multiple sources and are not created to be informative, they are produced principally for entertainment but also to pay homage to an individual and offer a new perspective on their life story.
Casting Star Performers
A star actor that is cast in a film which represents an actual famous music artist has a certain affect on how the musical biopic is discerned by film audiences. Two different actors have represented Cole Porter: Cary Grant and Kevin Kline. As well as these Hollywood stars other performers in both Night and Day and especially De-Lovely, change not only how the film is perceived but also the type of patrons that intend to view the films. A star influences the type of character they play and vice versa. Steven Cohan proposes that, “Far from reproducing the original person, a star image on film is itself always a copy of a copy, a mask or persona meant to authenticate a social, racial, and sexual type in the theatricalized settings of a movie and its promotion” (1997, 26). Therefore the star actor and character are representations of themselves in a feature film; they are an image or symbol of something more generalised. In the case of the Cole Porter musical biopics, the issues include masculinity and sexuality.
Rumoured to be bisexual, Cary Grant plays a heterosexual Cole Porter in Night and Day. According to biographical accounts of Grant, the actor was married five times and in-between marriages spent a considerable amount of time living with a man named Randolph Scott: “As a consequence, the rumours of Grant’s bisexuality circulated around Hollywood for the rest of his life. After his death, somewhat predictably, such rumours were made more well known with the publication of a number of sensationalistic articles and biographies” (McCann 1996, 126); such as Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon (1981, 250) and Larry Adler’s Me and My Big Mouth (1994, 74). Regardless, casting Grant is a subtle way to hint at Porter’s sexual position. As discussed by Custen,
Night and Day and the narrative it constructed were affected by the evolving demands of the musical film, Hollywood’s sense of self interest when narrating a film about its own community, the interests of the living Cole Porter, the star image of Cary Grant, the interstudio conventions, and Warner’s own internal understanding of how the great life should be told, in this case complete with song, dance, and romance (1994, 156).
As Custen suggests, there is a combination of issues behind why Night and Day became the film that it is; one of which is the star image of Cary Grant. Due to the fact that Cole Porter was living at the time and Cary Grant had a certain image he intended to maintain in the public eye, the biopic became a conservative representation of both individuals. Both stars did not want their careers to end based on what the public/fans believed about their homosexuality.
Kevin Kline, on the other hand, who plays Cole Porter in De-Lovely, had previously embodied homosexuality in the film In & Out (Frank Oz, 1997). The film is known for representing gay men in mainstream Hollywood, particularly with the inclusion of a kiss between Kline and star actor Tom Selleck. With the film in mind, audiences are accustomed to seeing Kline in this light. Hence, in comparison to Cary Grant in Night and Day, Kline is able to display Porter through this alternate approach since it does not negatively affect his career or the career of Cole Porter. Conclusively, the star image of the actor may work with or, in some cases, against the musical individual being represented. The presence of the star in a musical biopic whether cast in the lead role or otherwise, does transform the audiences’ understanding of the life story.
Popular Music Artists in De-Lovely
Although the popular music artists that appear in De-Lovely do not have any dialogue (they are only heard and seen singing Cole Porter’s songs) they still play an important part in the film. For younger film audiences who may not know about Cole Porter in the detail that older audiences do, casting contemporary music icons emphasises the success that Porter had during his career. Also, casting a variety of popular musicians, classical singers and performers in theatre, film and television increases the diversity of film viewers that would be drawn to the film and to Porter’s music. In Richard Dyer’s seminal study of stars he suggests that,
Audiences cannot make media messages anything they want to, but they can select from the complexity of the image the meanings and feelings, the variations, the inflections and contradictions, that work for them. Moreover, the agencies of fan magazines and clubs, as well as box office receipts and audience research, mean that the audience’s ideas about a star can act back on the media producers of the star’s image (2004, 4).
Although some film reviewers disagree, MGM’s vice chairman and chief operations officer, Chris McGurk, believes that the use of contemporary performers in De-Lovely is beneficial in opening up the demographic to encompass the viewers under twenty-five years old (Burlingame 2004, S18). The music artists originate from differing musical genres such as blues, jazz, pop, rock and punk music, bringing their own style into sonically expressing each song written by Porter. Included in the long list are Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Alanis Morisette and Sheryl Crow. The popular performers featured in De-Lovely are established artists in the music industry who cohere to the contemporary interpretation of Porter’s life.
It is noteworthy that a few years prior to the release of De-Lovely, Robbie Williams released a big band/jazz album titled Swing When You’re Winning (2001) that features Porter’s song, ‘Well, Did You Evah!’. In the film, Williams sings at Lee and Porter’s wedding, a song that expresses the event as the couple dance in the centre of the dance floor:
I understand the reason why
You’re sentimental, ’cause so am I
It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely
You can tell at a glance what a swell night this is for romance
You can hear, dear Mother Nature murmuring low ‘Let yourself go’
Williams appears, arms and body wide open, centre stage (and also engulfing the film frame) which often takes the focus off the wedded couple in the sequence. This displays the pop performer’s power and control not only over the song but also his professional career as a singer. Hence, performances by these established artists fortify their significance in the contemporary music industry therefore strengthening the importance of Cole Porter.
De-Lovely is not the first representation of Porter’s importance or homosexuality. In 1990 AIDS-benefit compilation album, Red White and Blue was released, featuring performers such as openly homo/bisexual K.D Lang and Sinéad O’Connor, singing the songs of Cole Porter. Each of the twenty tracks on the album re-interprets Porter’s songs through the perspective of each music artist. Although Porter did not die of AIDS (he passed in 1964 due to kidney failure), his homosexuality justified the making of the music album. Red White and Blue is an example that further exemplifies how Porter and his music can be interpreted in a homosexual context through modern music artists.
Musical Numbers and Homosexuality in De-Lovely
Lance and Berry are some of the many academics that research the relationship between music and sexuality including Susan McClary (1991), Edward W. Said (2008), Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (1990). In their study of human sexuality and popular music, Lance and Berry suggest that “Music readily available in our technologically advanced society provides daily communication of sexual roles, sexual behaviors, and sexual relationships to Americans. The opportunity to have the same popular music repeated many times daily enables easy memorization of sexual messages” (1985, 65). However, the interpretation of sexual messages can vary depending on the interpreter. In the case of Cole Porter’s music, the sexual message can also change meaning depending on the context in which the songs are found. This could include the various forms it can be located in such as radio, literature, theatre and cinema. Lance and Berry further state that, “of the songwriters between the 1920s and the 1950s, Cole Porter was one of the most popular composers of tunes featuring sexuality in music” (1985, 67). The songs analysed in this paper; ‘Anything Goes’ ‘What is This Thing Called Love?’, ‘Night and Day’, ‘Experiment’ and ‘Love For Sale’, feature in De-Lovely and are subtly (and often overtly) linked to Porter’s homosexual relationships and encounters in his married life.
One of the first musical numbers in De-Lovely, ‘Anything Goes’ introduces all of the main characters of the film including Porter’s family, friends, colleagues, gay affairs and his wife, Linda Lee. The entire cast appears and gathers onstage to perform the song in unison in front of old Porter and the director of the show. Linda Lee is first seen entering behind the cast and sings a verse of the song solo:
If saying your prayers you like
If green pears you like
If old chairs you like
If back stairs you like
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like
Why nobody will oppose
Lee is then abruptly cut-off by Porter and the director due to the fact that the verse is not appropriate for her to sing; it is too early in this musical production of his life story to bring up such complicated issues, as it is the first musical number. And so ‘Anything Goes’, which may be considered a celebration of life and individuality (originally stemming from the Anything Goes stage musical), has changed in this musical number to imply the open love affairs that Porter had with his wife’s knowledge. William McBrien suggests that ‘Anything Goes’ is Porter’s “broadest, most mirthful celebration of what the freer spirits in America have achieved in their tussle with puritanism” (1998, 168). However, it appears that even though Lee accepted Porter’s sexuality, she was still emotionally affected by it, which is highlighted by her first appearance and choice of verse in the performed song. Lee’s verse selection sets up the film as being controversial and more revealing than other representations of Cole Porter’s biography. The first musical number of the film hence sets up the narrative path for the rest of the film; conveying a strong focus on Porter’s sexuality.
‘Anything Goes’ appears again half-way through the film and is pre-empted with old Porter saying “I couldn’t hear the songs the same way anymore, suddenly the lyrics all sounded like code”. In the musical number Porter and Lee watch the song performed onstage in the musical. The lead singer (Caroline O’Connor) is dressed in a feminine sailor suit similar to the chorus which consists of a stage full of women who tap dance and sing to the music. The costuming alone raises issues concerning sexuality (linked to Porter) as sailors are culturally recognised as being sexually promiscuous. The performers sing the same verse that Lee initially sings at the commencement of the film and Porter asks Lee if she likes the song. Lee replies by stating that everyone in the crowd is enjoying it, however abruptly changes the subject. Even though Lee tells Porter his queer interests are not a problem it does seem to emotionally affect her when his songs are performed in public spaces. Lee is one of the few private individuals that is aware of the alternate meanings behind Porter’s song lyrics and Porter seems to unconsciously mock her, flaunting his sexuality through the stage performances of his music.
What Is This Thing Called Love?
The song, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ was written by Cole Porter in 1929 for the stage musical-revue Wake Up and Dream. The song appears in De-Lovely to express Porter’s emotional confusion in regard to his wife and male love interest, as Porter plays the tune at his home in Venice amongst a small audience of friends and colleagues. The number then moves on to a montage representing Porter’s lifestyle at the time including socialising with friends at various cafés across town. The number also features a man (played by singer/songwriter Lemar) standing at the head of a gondola, singing the song as Porter watches him pass by. The song continues non-diegetically as Lee and Porter attend a dance theatre performance titled Teatro di Venezia. Porter (and Lee) watches as a young man dances on stage, revealed in the following scene as the man that Porter is having a secret affair with. Lee watches as Porter briskly descends the stairs after the show and next appears the morning after, talking to the man in his bedroom and kissing him goodbye.
The musical sequence gives the impression that Lee accepts Porter and his attraction to men. Lee represents the film audience’s acceptance of Cole Porter’s homosexuality; if Lee, who is married to Porter, accepts his sexual promiscuity, then so should the viewer. There was much rumour at the time, and even after his death concerning the relationship, stating that Porter was homosexual, bisexual, that Lee may have been homosexual herself or even asexual. According to McBrien, “One commentator remarked, “[Lee] realized Porter was gay at first meeting and, on condition that he maintain a minimal façade, was prepared to accept it. It is likely that sex repelled her’” (McBrien 1998, 102). All in all, De-Lovely reveals this confusion through many of Cole Porter’s songs and does so, for the first time onscreen. Even though the film openly represents Porter’s homosexuality, his true nature (and Lee’s past) is still ambiguous. The gaps in the film narrative exemplify the idea that a biopic cannot provide a detailed account of any individual’s life story; it merely offers an opportunity to express a perspective.
Night and Day
In the musical number, ‘Night and Day’, Cole Porter trains a frustrated actor Jack (John Barrowman) to sing for an upcoming stage performance. Jack expresses that he is unable to sing the complicated song and looks for Porter’s assistance. Porter climbs up onto the stage and rehearses the song with Jack but also subtly flirts with him by saying; “I wrote it with you in mind” and “Think about the lyrics and just look at me”. Porter also physically engages Jack by gently touching his chest as they sing ‘Night and Day’ in unison (Figure 1). The connection between Porter and Jack provides Jack with the ability to finally sing the song as it was written and the scene transforms into the public performance of ‘Night and Day’ featuring Jack who sings to an actress onstage as Porter and Lee watch from the audience. Wayne Koestenbaum equates singing and use of the voice with sexual liberation (1991, 205) and concludes his research by stating, “homosexuality and singing require decisions to be made about placement – verdicts the body comes to as if by itself, naturally” (1991, 228). In light of this it appears that Porter coaxed Jack to embrace his true feelings, which assisted him in singing this song about love and obsession. Even though Jack and Porter do not establish a relationship outside of this setting, the encounter triggers a successful performance by Jack. The lyrics include:
Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me, or far
It’s no matter darling where you are
I think of you
Night and day
Figure 1: Jack and Porter rehearse ‘Night and Day’
In a sense, in order for Jack to sing the song as it was intended, he thinks of Porter and the personal time they shared in rehearsal. Without Porter’s guidance, Jack would not have been able to connect emotion to the song and act as if he were in love with the actress on stage. As Jack displays his love, through song, to the woman accompanying him on stage, he is secretly thinking about his feelings for Porter. Although this is not officially confirmed in De-Lovely, it is considered a character projection: “A broad view of projection suggests that people can find expression for many of their feelings and thoughts by projection onto the environment, including people, animals, pictures, motion pictures, television, music, and a variety of objects” (Zakia, 2002, 208). Applying the psychological theory to De-Lovely, Jack projects his feelings for Porter through his performance of ‘Night and Day’.
In De-Lovely Lee and Porter move to Hollywood so that Porter is able pursue his career in the movie-making business. Lee is obviously (through body language and facial expressions) unimpressed with Porter’s lifestyle in the new warmer climate. In one instance she witnesses him poolside with an array of male friends. Lee becomes less of a priority when his success in Hollywood makes him a desired guest at social events. At a party located on a Hollywood film set, Porter is requested to perform a song and is taken away from an agitated Lee as he clearly makes plans with a man to meet a new set of male companions that evening. Porter jumps on stage and sings his song titled ‘Experiment’. The lyrics of the song not only symbolise Lee’s breaking point but also Porter’s experimentation with his sexuality:
Make it your motto day and night.
And it will lead you to the light.
If this advice you’ll only employ
The future can offer you infinite joy
And you’ll see
‘Experiment’ is a song originally from the stage musical titled Nymph Errant that began playing in Manchester in 1933. The musical depicts controversial sexual subject matter, which focuses on the experimentation of protagonist Evangeline Edwards, intent on losing her virginity. For Linda Lee, witnessing Porter sing the song to a crowd of Hollywood industry personnel (in De-Lovely) is humiliating. The audience is amused by the lyrics of ‘Experiment’ yet still are unaware that it is linked to Porter’s attraction and experimentation with people of the same sex. “By refusing to mark gender in his lyrics, Porter produces a situation where the heterosexual and homosexual text coincide. Unlike the other major lyricists of the period, Porter either leaves his pronouns open throughout the song… or, if he has to make a heterosexual resolution, holds it off as long as possible” (Roth 1993, 273). Therefore through lyrics alone, it is unclear to the general public who Porter is referring to. Lee and the select few men present who provide Porter with the opportunity to meet willing males are the few at the event who understand how the song relates to Porter’s personal circumstances. Demonstrating the effect of the song, after the event Lee tells Porter she will be leaving him and moving to Arizona. These performances, where Porter’s sexuality is conveyed through his music, are the times where Lee is emotionally withdrawn from Porter. The songs highlight Porter’s character traits and assist in exploring his intimate relationships.
Love for Sale
‘Love for Sale’, sung by Vivian Green in the film is a controversial song originally written by Cole Porter for The New Yorkers, a Broadway stage show performed between 1930 and 1931. Lance and Berry imply that Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’, “was perhaps the first song ever written about love as a profession, a provocative number made all the more purient, and suggestive by Kathryn Crawford’s performance in The New Yorkers in 1930” (Lance and Berry 1985, 67). The song was banned from the air because of its lyrics, describing a prostitute selling herself:
Appetising young love for sale
If you want to buy my wares
Follow me and climb the stairs
Love for sale
However, from Timothy E. Scheurer’s perspective,
[In] Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ we are never told directly that the narrator and chief subject of the song is a streetwalker. Instead, through a series of symbols, a langorous rhythm and the subtle use of minor harmonies and shifts in harmonies, her image becomes clear. In short, her image must be evoked by the listener (1990, 25).
The musical number in De-Lovely is portrayed in an alternate way to its visual representation in The New Yorkers. In De-Lovely the sequence is set in an underground jazz nightclub and features a woman (played by Vivian Green) singing ‘Love for Sale’ on a stage in spotlight. The club is darkly lit and couples (male/female and male/male) slow dance to the live music. Porter initially enters, strolling down the stairs with a gentleman who introduces him to a vast array of other men to which he sits with in a booth. The camera then pans across to the singer who is wearing a different dress, signalling that it is now another evening. Porter again enters by walking down the stairs, dancing with and kissing men that he recognises and walks to the bar to greet the gentleman (who now can be identified as the procurer) and subtly counts out a large sum of money that Porter then hands to him. The procurer then slips the money to another man (who can now be identified as the prostitute) and Porter follows him into the washroom of the nightclub where they embrace in a kiss.
The sequence demonstrates that visual imagery can alter the meaning of a song and its lyrics. ‘Love for Sale’ in De-Lovely, describes Cole Porter’s sexual encounters with men through paying for prostitution while married to his wife Linda Lee. It is in places like the nightclub where Porter sought intimacy and, as the lyrics describes, “Old love, new love/ Every love but true love”. The notion is reinforced by Cole Porter’s statement in one of the earlier scenes in the film; “I wanted every kind of love that was available. I never could find them in the same person. Or the same sex.” Overall, through the musical numbers of the film, the meaning of Porter’s music changes from what was originally perceived as a heterosexual context (in relation to Night and Day and the productions Porter’s music was featured in) to a homosexual context in this contemporary biopic. However, changing the sexual issues does not necessarily make De-Lovely a more accurate representation of Cole Porter’s life; it simply makes it an alternative representation. Through lyrics, dialogue and audio-visual aesthetic, De-Lovely represents Porter as a passionate artist who constantly searches for love and reflects his own identity through his music. The ‘Love for Sale’ number illustrates the private, more secretive parts of Cole Porter’s biography.
De-Lovely as Self-Reflexive Backstage Musical
The dialogue and display of musical numbers in De-Lovely leads the film to be what Jane Feuer refers to as the self-reflexive musical (1986). Feuer suggests that the backstage musical subgenre (and more specifically, the musical biopic) refers to its own genre characteristics by discussing how they are represented on stage within the film: “The ostensible or surface function of these musicals is to give pleasure to the audience by revealing what goes on behind the scenes in the theater or Hollywood – that is, to demystify the production of entertainment” (1986, 459). However, in De-Lovely the demystification of behind-the-scenes productions in theatre are then re-mystified through the musical film genre framework. For example, old Porter watches his life re-enacted on stage in a theatre and discusses how it should be represented. As he is watching the theatre production, the film audience watches the filmic adaptation of the production (not on stage from old Porter’s viewpoint but on location) in order for the film audience to become immersed in the diegesis of the film and hence re-mystify the musical genre. Old Porter and the director Gabe, sit and watch his life story unfold on the stage and argue over who has the control in the production of a musical. It is interesting to note that old Porter is unable to talk to any of the cast members while they are performing to offer advice; they are only able to hear Gabe speak to them. Gabe then becomes a vessel of communication between the actors and Porter, changing outcomes of the stage performance according to his own evaluation of Porter’s concerns. The interaction self-reflexively demonstrates that the film director has final control over how the protagonist is perceived in the biopic, even if the individual themselves is involved.
Narrative structure is also raised as an issue when characters are introduced, as Porter and Gabe argue over when complications in the narrative should arise. Gabe states that the musical is ‘unconventional but honest’ which reinforces how the entertainment industry has changed from the 1940s to embracing more contemporary musical structures. After the ‘Anything Goes’ musical number, Gabe asks Linda Lee, “Have you ever seen a musical without a happy ending?” Gabe implies that the stage musical (and hence the film overall) is a unique representation of a musical individual. De-Lovely is attempting to be different from previous representations of Cole Porter as well as other biopics of music artists, more generally. Jane Feuer states that, “self-reflexive musicals are ‘modernist’ in that they systematically deconstruct those very elements that give the genre its regularity” (2004, 231). De-Lovely emphasises the wider issues of cinema practice, time, place and social values within the entertainment industry through the life of Cole Porter. Drawing upon the film genre characteristics of the backstage musical, the biopic self-references its own practices in replicating a life story which is governed by the director, cast choices, selective intertextual references and when available, the individual themselves.
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De-Lovely (Irwin Winkler, 2004, MGM)
In & Out (Frank Oz, 1997, Paramount Pictures)
Night and Day (Michael Curtiz, 1946, Warner Brothers)