Re-Envisioning the Artist Hero Through Two Cole Porter Biopics
Songwriter Cole Porter is unusual in having had two biopics based on his life: Night and Day (1946) starring Cary Grant, and De-Lovely (2004), starring Kevin Kline. The differences in the treatment of the character of Cole Porter between the films are striking, and indicate a change in the way that society envisions its artists, and the very act of creativity. Night and Day was conceived partly as a showcase of Porter's songs, but also as a means of providing inspiration to soldiers returning wounded from World War II, based on Porter's recovery from a traumatic riding accident. It depicts Porter as an everyman following a trajectory of achievement, from having little to great success, which was positioned as easy to emulate. De-Lovely, on the other hand, is about the relationship between Porter and his wife Linda, and the way that his creativity was influenced by his changing relationships with various people. Drawing on the work on biopics of scholars such as G.F.Custen, together with research into the shifting ideas of how creativity operates and is popularly understood, this article uses these biopics as case studies to examine the representation of changing concepts of the artist and the act of creativity through Hollywood film. It also considers how these changing conceptions and representations connect to shifts in American society.