- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2017

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, ILL. | Chaz Ebert welcomed the Virginia Theatre’s audience to “Sundays at Ebertfest,” the final day of Ebertfest 2017, with a showing of the Cole Porter biopic “De-Lovely.”

Ms. Ebert told the gathered about a play being staged in Chicago about her interracial marriage to Roger Ebert called “The Black White Play.” It shows the couple dancing and singing, and Ms. Ebert related that her late husband was in fact a fan of such theatrics.

Ms. Ebert spoke about next year’s 20th anniversary fest, for which she said she and program director Nate Kohn would take suggestions for the fest’s platinum anniversary.

Mr. Kohn and assistant festival director Casey Ludwig brought out Sunday flowers for Ms. Ebert, who related the significance of the gift.

“Before Roger passed away, he left instructions” for after his passing, “and I get flowers delivered several times a year from him still,” she said, her voice breaking.

Ms. Ebert introduced “De-Lovely” director/producer Irwin Winkler, who also produced “GoodFellas,” “Rocky,” “Raging Bull” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Mr. Winkler was joined by his son, Charles Winkler, who co-produced “De-Lovely.”

Irwin Winkler said he hadn’t seen the film with an audience since the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.

“I will probably get angry about the mistakes I made, but there’s nothing I can do about it now, and neither can you,” he said.

Despite the film taking place all over the world, it was shot almost entirely in London.

“When you’re making a musical, you’re making two films at the same time,” Charles Winkler said, saying the narrative and musical elements require a melding of the two for “De-Lovely.” “Going to work knowing you’re going to hear Cole Porter songs all day long isn’t a bad day,” he said.

“When I directed my first film 25 years ago, Roger was the first one to see it,” Irwin Winkler said of “Guilty By Suspicion,” which starred Robert De Niro about a blacklisted filmmakers. “He was a really, really great force behind it, giving me the confidence to go on.

“I think that we are all lucky to have festivals like this” to see films on the big screen, Irwin Winkler said, “to see films as we intended to make them.

“We must support these film festivals because it reminds us of our past and why we make movies.”

When asked about the narrative device of having Cole Porter “watching” the musical of his life in “De-Lovely,” Irwin Winkler said that it was his and screenwriter Jay Cocks’ decision to “do something different.”

“De-Lovely,” he said, was “a direct descendent of me not making a movie. For years I wanted to make a movie about the Gershwins, but we could never find a script we liked,” Mr. Winkler said of the genesis of “De-Lovely.”

Mr. Winkler related that a lawyer for the Porter estate was so enthused about the film that he even allowed the filmmakers the use of Porter’s entire song catalog without a fee.

In the film, the romance between prolific songwriter Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) and his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) is shown as one of extreme love, but one that is complicated. Porter was outwardly gay and frequently indulged his appetites; Linda had been abused by her first husband and wasn’t terribly interested in sex herself. She knew of her husband’s predilections and all but encouraged him to seek sex with men if it would help him creatively.

“There was a group of Hollywood directors and actors and composers that were gay, and in those days, it was really, really something you didn’t openly live,” Mr. Winkler said. “Cole Porter had a flag outside his house, and when it was up, everybody knew he was having a party with his male friends.”

Of Mr. Kline, Mr. Winkler said he sought him out as Mr. Kline not only plays the piano, but was also a veteran of Broadway. He did all his own singing and piano-playing in the film.

Mr. Kline didn’t feel like he was a good enough singer for the role, but Mr. Winkler told his star to listen to recordings of Porter, who had a rather mediocre voice himself.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Winkler said to his actor.

Charles Winkler said that Mr. Kline didn’t quite see the film’s potential until he came to see a rough cut in California, at which point he was “running around apologizing to everybody.”

Irwin Winkler said Miss Judd was at first hesitant to take on the part given her family’s musical history, but she soon agreed.

Irving Winkler said producing Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” influenced his desire to have a long Steadicam shot in “De-Lovely.” He then related how Henny Youngman, who was the comedian in the final seconds of the famous Copacabana shot in “GoodFellas,” keep forgetting his lines, requiring the crew to start the famous shot form scratch.

Mr. Winkler one-upped Mr. Scorsese in “De-Lovely,” having Mr. Kline undergo several wardrobe changes within the single shot to show the progression of time over several evenings at a club Porter patronizes in order to meet other men.

“De-Lovely” features performances from Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow and Natalie Cole, among others.

In fitting fashion, following the Q&A, local entertainers performed some of Porter’s most famous tunes.

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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