This evening, as part of my day off, I went to see Florence Foster Jenkins at the Georgetown movie theater. Based on a true story, the film follows a NY heiress in 1944. I followed her experience, watching with eyes of faith. As the movie makes clear from the start, Madame Florence has no ear and even less voice, but she has a huge a heart for music. Not one for overly sentimental subjects, I was incredulous through the first third of the movie, but this story eventually touches deep truths.
Madame Florence’s love for music and what it can do for the human soul moved her to sing. While her singing is (in a word) terrible, something shines through it to win the admiration of many, including a packed house at Carnegie Hall. It’s not just an affection for music, but rather a reverence for it… and a celebration of life even in the midst of great imperfections. For Madame Florence, those imperfections included a life threatening 50-year battle with syphilis (contracted from her unfaithful first husband), as well as the setting for the whole film, World War II.
There’s a certain tragic clarity when someone who can’t sing adores music… when a woman fighting daily for her life can be a celebrated socialite and rouse the spirits of young men wounded in war. It says to us, “there’s more to this.” Florence Foster Jenkins’ music was, perhaps, a witness to hope. For that, it deserves a standing ovation.