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Beyond the Sea (2004)
Kevin Spacey is the actor that seems to be able to do anything.
Even though he's been making movies since "Heartburn" in 1986, and most of us have probably heard of "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" from 1989, "Seven" and "The Usual Suspects" from 1995, but it wasn't until "American Beauty" came in 1999 that he became a familiar name amongst movie critics. The role also won him an Oscar.
I've been a swing/jazz fan for a long time, and I'm being hit my minor anxiety attacks when artists like Robbie Williams and recently Westlife decide to do "a swing thing" and miss the whole point about the genre. Those who call Robbie Williams a crooner know just about as much about the genre as he does. So when I heard about Kevin Spacey's project a couple of years ago, I was automatically skeptical. By then I'd already heard him sing "That Old Black Magic" from the Clint Eastwood production "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil" (1997) and he had a good voice, but performed the song like a pop song. Something the above mentioned artists also have a tendency to do.
Kevin showed up at the Michael Parkinson show last month to promote the movie, and announced he'd also be singing two songs: "Beyond The Sea" and "Mack The Knife" with a live orchestra. I was nervous. Up until the point where he started singing, that was. He's spent the last 12 years making this project perfect, and has received blessings from both Sandra Dee and her son with Bobby, Dodd.
Beyond The Sea - the movie: It all kicks off when Bobby Darin (Spacey) enters the stage and sings "Mack The Knife". If you've had any preconceptions of his ability to sing or perform, this will disappear before he's reached "...pearly white..." He nearly performs the whole song, but interrupts and a director shouts "cut". In the break a journalist shouts "isn't he too old to play this role?!" after him, upon where his manager sneers, "Don't listen to him, Bobby. How can you be too old to play yourself?" It appears we're on the set of the movie where Bobby Darin plays himself. Which makes it okay that he doesn't look 20 in the early scenes.
Not far into the movie he meets Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) on the set of the Rock Hudson movie "Come September" in 1961, and a romance blossoms. A bit of back and forth later, particularly with Sandra's mother, they become a couple and marry within two months. The fact that they hardly know each other adds up to certain problems, but even though they fight like cat and dog at points, there's always the underlying affection for each other. You get the feeling that it's the ultimate romance.
It's eventually this turbulent - but heartwarming - love affair and Bobby's performances where the focus of the movie lies, with a glimpse into his political phase during the Vietnam war when he lived in the middle of nowhere on his own. This bred the song "Simple Song Of Freedom" and an attempt at a comeback with a new image. We follow him all the way up to his last performance and an alternative ending that's very, well, swing.
The Soundtrack: Not only is the movie a work of art, Kevin shows an almost unbelievable talent for the genre. He's been taking singing lessons since the late 90's, and has studies every little detail in Bobby Darin's voice and being, most on and off stage. Everything looks and sounds right.
Kevin's vibrato is perfect. Smooth, subtle and last but not least... it's done properly. Some singers don't have a clue how to do a proper vibrato and sound like they've got something stuck in their throat when attempting one, but Kevin does it brilliantly. His phrasing is also spot-on, and he's got a lung-capacity that even professional singers can envy him. Bobby Darin went through different stages, from swing to light country, and Spacey says he's spent years with Darin songs on his iPod and kept hotel guests awake at night, singing his songs. Just to get it right.
He's done everything and then some to make everything sound as perfect as possible and succeeded. The orchestra also sounds amazing, and it's wonderful to hear real instruments on a 2004 album. He recorded all songs at the Abbey Road Studios - where the Beatles put down 172 songs - with the legendary Phil Ramone producing.
Conclusion: Kevin Spacey once said that 'the less you know about me as a person, the easier it is to believe I am that person on the screen' and he's right. I don't know anything about him and I don't want to know, because when I watch "Beyond The Sea" it's not Kevin Spacey I see - but Bobby Darin.