Behind the Candelabra – 4 out of 5
I don’t really know much about Liberace beyond the fact he was a shiny man that wore shiny suits playing a shiny piano and during his heyday gaydar technology wasn't what it is today. Liberace was huge before my time on this planet and was leaving this world when I still found collecting fireflies to be an important use of my time and was busy discovering the perfect mud-pie recipe. However, I was kind of excited to see a bio-pic based on the autobiographical novel of the same name that told the story of one of Liberace’s lovers that ended up being less of a fling with the legend and just ended up being filled with heartache and tragedy.
|That's a whole lot of shiny on that stage!|
Behind the Candelabra shows us the adventures Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) had with Liberace (Michael Douglas) as his lover. We see the two meet and that begins the whirlwind romance of sex, drugs, plastic surgery, sequenced fur coats, extravagance and piano music. Thorson hits a storm of drama the likes of which no mortal person could possibly imagine as Liberace gives him the world but, in return, makes the young man basically a piece of property; all the while their love must remain secret from Liberace's scores of female fans. Thorson is quick to learn that he is just a toy to the legend and that eventually he will hit an expiration date and Liberace will move on.
|Who could possible move on from that hair?!?|
I first heard of this film—about a year ago—when it was announced it was going to air on HBO. This announcement stands in my head because, following the news of it (I heard it on a shitty little Top 40 station not far from where I live), the morning show DJ immediately started on a rant about how sick he would be if he saw Damon and Douglas (sounds like a detective show!) kiss on screen. The man went on for a good three minutes about how it would disturb, disgust and offend him. My initial reaction to this news was A) I would watch a bio-pic about Liberace and B) that morning show DJ has clearly either thought of kissing another man or has kissed another man and is in denial about how much he enjoyed it. The closeted generic morning show host aside, a bio-pic about the piano slamming star sounded interesting to me.
|Scott Bakula needs to keep that mustache...only indefinable power can come|
Steven Soderbergh—you know, the director of Contagion, The Informant!, the Ocean’s movies and newest piece of classic cinema that belongs in the Library of Congress…Magic Mike (even though I've actually seen the movie, I still think it's about a magician stripper)—really made a film that was dramatic, filled with terrific acting and had a great touch of humor. Like I said, I really didn’t know much about Liberace other than the man was larger than life and twice as gaudy with his fur, sequins, gold and hair pieces that could play the hell out of a piano (yes, the hair pieces were playing the piano all along!). Judging the man entirely on the legend that has blossomed from him—even a rudimentary understanding of this legend—I could really see Liberace being the "beyond the stars" sort of man that he is portrayed as in the film, even with the hint of sadness the film coaxes in.
I don’t know how much truth there is to Thorson’s story but judging by the man who wore a coat that extended 100 feet behind him ; I would say the man that is shown in the film is probably how Liberace could be. I would expect a person who needs all his suits to shine to the extent they cause seizures in weaker people to be a man who is out-of-touch with reality and sees everything that surrounds him as objects for his amusement and ownership. What I’m getting at is that even though I was really unfamiliar with Liberace, Soderbergh’s film showcased exactly how I think the man would be; the original pop diva. And the film, with Douglas in the starring role, really showed this fantastically.
|Hard to fathom that a man who dressed like this could possibly have been|
|I'm just putting this picture in again because, dammit, |
just look at that hair! Sure, it's a wig but LOOK AT IT!!!
|Yeah, the tilt of his head says that you're about to be molested but the look|
on his face says he's drunk while he does it.
Finally, Michael Douglas as Liberace was a sight to bear witness to. Not only did his performance remind me of the few times I’ve actually seen video footage of the piano man but it was unlike anything I had seen Douglas do in the past. I’m not used to seeing him in a role that requires him to be in make-up and speak in a voice that is beyond his own…and he did it fantastically! He was so good and very convincing as the spangled ringer of the ivories that the film looked less like an actor portraying Liberace and more like you were just watching Liberace in action.
|Douglas really captured the shininess.|
Behind the Candelabra was just an impressive bio-pic. The acting is high-grade all around, the era the film is taking place in looks authentic (the feathered hair, amazing amounts of gold chains nestled in huge bushes of chest hair and life-altering facial hair all looked how I imagined they looked in the 70s and early 80s), the sets, the costumes, and the fact the movie had the perfect blend of humor and drama in its storytelling all came together for a great viewing experience. HBO aired a film that was so great on all its fronts—everything from tone to technical know how—that this film being on a premium cable network like HBO seems like an act of charity because Soderbergh crafted something that is theatrical release quality.
|I'm just going to assume that seeing some Liberace man-boobs is|
the only thing that kept this film from the theaters.
And yes, shitty morning show DJ in the small Wisconsin town who is so insecure he can’t see two immensely talented and established actors kiss while in character, we do see Michael Douglas and Matt Damon plant one on each other's lips (and more)…and it’s everything out of your wildest wet dream that you were so unconvincingly trying to tell your listening audience was actually in your nightmares. You’re not Liberace, DJ, and you won’t fool anyone the way he did.