Analysis: Second chances on DVD

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Dec. 2, 2004 at 5:33 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The upcoming DVD release of the Cole Porter biography "De-Lovely" illustrates the changing nature of the Hollywood business model, and the new opportunity to turn box-office disappointments into home-video successes.

Directed by Oscar-winning producer-director Irwin Winkler ("Life as a House," "Rocky") from a screenplay by Oscar-nominee Jay Cocks ("Gangs of New York," "The Age of Innocence"), the movie features a critically praised performance by Oscar winner Kevin Kline ("A Fish Called Wanda") as the legendary popular music and Broadway composer Cole Porter. It also features performances by leading contemporary pop and jazz stars such as Robbie Williams, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and Sheryl Crow.

Ultimately, "De-Lovely" is as much about Porter's music as it is about his life and times, and it plays as a movie musical -- featuring dozens of Porter songs including "Let's Misbehave," "You Do Something to Me," "Night and Day" and "Be a Clown."

Not very long ago, when "Chicago" was winning the Best Picture Oscar and "Moulin Rouge" was a nominee for Best Picture, many Hollywood watchers declared that the long dormancy of the movie musical form had come to an end -- and a new era was about to begin.

"De-Lovely" seemed poised to take advantage of the entertainment industry's newfound interest in movie musicals when it opened in July, but some influential critics were less than kind and the marketplace did not seem especially interested in seeing a movie about a composer who specialized in personal scandal, no matter how effective Kline's performance might have been.

The movie grossed just $13.4 million at the U.S. box office and another $1.6 million overseas.

In an interview with United Press International, Kline said the film's box-office performance was not for lack of support from MGM, which produced and distributed it.

"Oh, they spent way more money promoting it than making it," said Kline. "They've gotten behind the movie from the get-go."

As the movie's Dec. 21 DVD release date approaches, Kline said MGM has been "lavishing tremendous promotional energy" on the project. And so has Kline, who typically does not do as much promotion for his projects as he is for this one.

"I try to do as little as possible," he said.

Kline said he agreed to promote "De-Lovely" because Winkler is a friend, because he felt a personal connection to the project and the music, and because MGM has been so supportive.

"I also think promoting the DVD is important," he said, "because for me, this is the kind of movie that I might be inclined to think, 'I'll wait for the DVD.'"

There is a considerable amount of that going on.

Melinda Saccone, senior market research manager for Video Store Magazine, told UPI that some of the best-performing home videos have been pictures with disappointing box-office earnings.

"These are films that might have been overshadowed by other movies playing in theaters at the same time," she said, "and now that they are coming out on DVD there's a pent-up demand to see them by consumers who chose to see something else on the big screen."

If it weren't for that DVD market potential, it's easy to wonder what the chances are that a movie such as "De-Lovely" could get made. In commentary on the DVD, Winkler and Kline marvel that "De-Lovely" managed to secure financing.

Kline told UPI it seems to be easier to get financing for big, crowd-pleasing entertainment.

"I live in New York and I'm really out of the loop in terms of how Hollywood works, but I gather through inference that studios tend to put tons of money into these movies which they hope will guarantee a huge financial return," said Kline. "The more you do that, of course, you lower the standards in order to appeal to as broad an audience -- and you dumb down."

Kline has a reputation among fellow actors for procrastinating at some considerable length before agreeing to do projects.

"I'm decisive," said Kline. "I just want to do something that I can connect to, that I care about. On the few occasions where I haven't it's been disastrous."

Kline -- who became the first American to win the John Gielgud Award for his work as a Shakespearean and classical actor -- would not mention any projects of his that turned out to be disastrous.

In addition to the audio commentary by Winkler and Kline, the "De-Lovely" DVD package includes audio commentary by Winkler and Cocks, as well as featurettes on the making of the movie and the production of the musical numbers -- including interviews with Cole, Costello, Crow, Krall and Williams.


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