Reviews

De-Lovely (2004)

Jesse Hassenger

As legendary songwriter Porter, Kevin Kline's deft, unshowy performance contributes to the film's charm.


De-lovely

Director: Irwin Winkler
Cast: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Keith Allen, Peter Polycarpou
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: MGM
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2004-12-21

De-Lovely ("the Cole Porter story") was the first and least lauded of 2004's three musical biopics. While Ray (Ray Charles) and Beyond the Sea (Bobby Darin) garnered attention for the transformative star turns by Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey, De-Lovely was released to theaters and then to DVD with relatively little fanfare.

As legendary songwriter Porter, Kevin Kline's deft, unshowy performance contributes to the film's charm. Kline has always been a generous actor. Even in his most flamboyant comic roles (A Fish Called Wanda [1988] and Fierce Creatures [1997]), he thrives on interaction. Here, his tendency to share spotlights lends strength and heart to Porter's relationship with Linda (Ashley Judd), the saintly wife figure typically relegated to the background of musical biographies. Porter was gay and Linda knew this, though the film argues that they shared a deep love, in their way: Although Linda is aware of Porter's orientation, there is still frustration and confusion between them when Porter sneaks off for trysts. She feels a need to take care of him (and his talent), but must share him with the world.

Linda is never far from Cole; the movie scarcely covers any time before they met. Whether their relationship is used as a means of backing away from the "gay" content of Porter's life is unclear; certainly, none of Porter's male lovers have much character or distinction. The filmmakers certainly found a good hook and created good roles for both actors (for the first time in too long, Judd's seriousness is focused on something more emotionally complex than a Paramount thriller), but did it come at the expense of a more incisive film?

While Judd and Kline are the picture's most valuable assets, she's missing from the DVD commentary track; Kline chats with director Irwin Winkler (a second track features Winkler and screenwriter Jay Cocks). During this conversation, the disarmingly relaxed Kline sounds almost too deferential -- he and Winkler compliment each other often, and suggest that the movie being made at all is a significant achievement. Winkler, bless him, seems to think that the movie's familiar structure -- Porter as an old man is given a stage-and-screen retrospective of his life by an unnamed Gabriel figure (Jonathan Pryce) -- is a stroke of experimental brilliance.

Winkler's comments include a number of near-boilerplate observations. During a dialogue scene between the Porters dealing with Linda's miscarriage, Winkler notes, "I thought it would be interesting to do this intimate scene in a wide-open theater, because their life was so much about the theater." Fair enough, but this is a brief and vague observation (boiled down: they're in a theater because they work in theater) for what should be a pivotal scene. Winkler's workmanlike touch puts the film's key pieces (Kline, Judd, and the music) into place, but can't make them complement each other, exactly. His friendly relationship with Kline sounds almost too functional.

This is illuminated as the pair has equal praise for what works and what doesn't. Kline and Winkler repeatedly laud their celebrity guest-singers (such as Elvis Costello and Robbie Williams) for their performances of Porter songs, but the movie really soars when Kline is doing the singing and dancing. Scenes where Kline performs-he's as light on his feet as you would imagine-create real relationship between the songwriter and sometime performer and his work; the celebrity stuff is just well-meaning tribute.

The best of the Kline numbers comes when Porter's attempt to deal Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) turns into a back lot twirl through "Be a Clown." Here De-Lovely feels like a committed, old-fashioned musical (one of the best anecdotes on the commentary is how "Make 'em Laugh," the famous number from Singin' in the Rain, was lifted from this Porter song). But the old-fashioned charm and new-fangled emotional complexity collide more than they combine. Winkler and Kline note that Night and Day, the 1946 Cole biography with Cary Grant, had only the faintest hints of homosexuality (Winkler points out Grant's brief "looking down" while embracing his onscreen wife as a signifier, and for the second time on the commentary track one of his most insightful observations is directed at another film and not his own). The implication is that their film is bolder for dealing with it at all. This may be true, but that is not to say this aspect is handled particularly well.

Cole and Linda's relationship is detailed and well-acted, but they're surrounded by few memorable supporting characters. The result is a likable film that cannot break out of the biopic rhythms (spark of promise; success; crisis; long-suffering partner; eventual triumph). While De-Lovely features enough moments of emotional connection between Kline and Judd to it worth a look (it rallies in its exuberant and then reflective finale), it also sags with complacency.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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