Sunday, September 11, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins: Monday, August 29 2016

What a delightful film! A true story about Florence Foster Jenkins, an American concert singer born in 1868, known for unbelievably bad singing.

The film is a British-French biographical comedy-drama. Directed by Stephen Frears, written by Nicholas Martin, there is never a dull moment.

Meryl Streep is fantastic as Florence Foster Jenkins. Hugh Grant is delightful as St. Clair Bayfield, and Simon Helberg is highly entertaining as Cosme McMoon, the accompanist to Florence. Great casting: also of all the other people in the film. The costumes are good, and altogether, the film is a polished production. I loved it!

The question that sprang to my mind was to ask if Meryl Streep performed the singing herself. There is no indication anywhere I could find that anyone else did. She is brilliant. Having been a singer myself, I could fully appreciate her incredibly good, bad singing. It wasn't just as anyone could screech; it did sound the product of good training. I almost hate to admit that I couldn't stop laughing as Streep sang. She really was so good at being so bad.

I trained in the Italian Bel Canto method of voice production, and also the British method under a teacher from the London Royal School of Music. Florence was training under Carlo Edwards, an assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. I would ask if he were a singer himself, and how had he trained in singing. What method of voice production did he teach? Perhaps she was tone deaf, or even deaf. That would help explain her inability to sing in tune. No amount of training, or any teacher, could help that. In fact, she was suffering from syphilis, and probably the effects were a large part of her problem.

I saw the film as a love story. Hugh Grant was perfect as St. Clair Bayfield, Florence's partner in life. They never married, but were inseparable right up until her death in 1944. Bayfield realised that she couldn't sing, but wanted her to be happy. Music made her happy, so he went along with her ambitions. He made sure that only those who appreciated her were allowed to attend her private concerts. When she finally gave a public concert in 1944, in the Carnegie Hall in New York, soldiers were encouraged to attend. Not understanding her, they laughed at her. Her loyal supporters cheered to drown out their laughter, and Bayfield hid the uncomplimentary reviews in the newspapers. St. Clair's love for Florence was constant, and deeply moving.

Florence loved music, and made it her life. It was so poignant that in spite of all her hard work, she couldn't sing in tune. I felt deeply for her. However, as she is reputed to have said herself on her deathbed, "They may say I couldn't sing, but they can't say I didn't sing!" I love her spirit! She died shortly after her memorable concert in the Carnegie Hall.

One of the most amusing, enjoyable films I have ever seen!

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