Behind The Candelabra (15)
by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Scott Bakula, Dan Ackroyd
On general release from June 7th 2013
Liberace, the world’s greatest, most flamboyant, and highest earning
showman famously said he “cried all the way to the bank” whenever
critics dismissed his act or questioned his piano playing. He had real
aspirations of becoming a classical musician before trail blazing many
of the ideas of image (rhinestone suits, gold, opal, and emerald rings
on every finger, fox fur coats with 16 foot trails…) commonplace
today. He was also pretty witty, popular as hell, and good to his mother.
Liberace, however, does not come out of Behind The Candelabra smelling
so sweet. Here we get the controlling sexual predator, desperate to preserve
the myth he is as straight as everyone else (the times – no gay
people then, of course), and the magnificent grotesque egotist who does
not just want a facelift for himself but orders one for his lover, too.
“I want him to look like this”, coo’s Liberace (Michael
Douglas) holding a giant painting of himself.
Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) is 17 when he runs into 57 year old Liberace,
and the film is based on Thorson’s book of the title, and the five
years they spend living together. Though it all ends in tears when Thorson
is brutally turfed out for the next young thing, this is an intimate and
loving portrayal until the great showman becomes too possessive. Now they
could be any couple going through a rough patch except Liberace is American
materialism personified – why fix what’s broken when you can
just buy a new one? Similarities here to the other ‘Great American
Dream’ film of the summer, The Great Gatsby.
Michael Douglas is relentlessly Liberace throughout, especially in that
easy elevator voice that levels off at the 75th floor which stays with
you whether he’s playing to his fans or pleading, “What do
you want, Scott? Haven’t I given you everything?” Performances
from both leads are convincing, and given that half the film is domestic
fallout under the chandeliers it’s entertaining, too. Matt Damon’s
character goes through the mill and would have me sniffling at the end
if I am not already occupied thinking what a bastard Liberace is.
Still these monsters only get away with it because of the lowlifes they
attract and Liberace’s entourage are no different. Rob Lowe’s
pill popping plastic surgeon Dr. Startz is on some planet 10 million light
years beyond morality and care, and got me thinking, did he get so far
out all by himself? Do Hollywood actors have that kind of leeway or did
the writers and director help him get there?
Either way, that’s fiction. In real life Liberace got there all