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Thursday, March 22, 2007

not an introspective performer

My beloved spouse and I watched De-Lovely on DVD the other night. Interesting that they turned Cole Porter into an introspective, soul-baring, autobiographical singer-songwriter. There’s probably truth in that, but not as a performer.

The filmmakers hired an arranger and a bunch of rock and pop stars to sing the songs. Alanis Morissette easily outshone Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello -- she didn’t sing like an introspective singer-songwriter! Everytime Elvis threw his head back and closed his eyes, I thought, nope. That ain’t the style. Alanis sounded more distinctive vocally as well -- she’s unique.

Diana Krall was even better on “Just One of Those Things,” sung with a gum-chewing tough-gal hard-edge stare. Not as distinctive vocally as Alanis, but a great acting job.

On the whole, though, the occasional modernizations that the arranger threw in didn’t hold a candle to just about anything on 1990’s mostly fabulous comp Red Hot & Blue.

Tellingly, my favorite singer of the bunch was the wrongest of all -- Kevin Kline as the introspective soul-baring singer-songwriter himself. He’s a wonderful actor, and Ashley Judd as his long-suffering wife was even better. Kline’s singing, though, made a lot of the songs dark and quiet in a way that makes me want to hear them again. I’ll have to track down the soundtrack.

A cheer for the filmmakers for having the honesty to own up to the wrongness of their conception, which they did by bringing out a recording of Cole himself singing “Anything Goes” for the closing credits. Porter’s voice, reedy in tone but brassy in presentation, with a maximum attention to the verbal wit & nuance, carries his songs in a way that never would have been popular then (though it might have worked on country radio, if he could have been persuaded to dress them that way, which never ever ever would have happened), but which works beautifully and un-introspectively. He’s singing to you, not musing to himself.

The film’s story is somewhat creepy and melancholic, but I was happy to hear the songs, even the weaker arrangements and performances.
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