Translating Scott Thorson’s autobiographical memoir “Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace” from 1988 to an on-screen production is a magical fit and with captivating performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, its Hollywood rejection is all the more disappointing.
Liberace (Michael Douglas) enjoyed a glittering yet controversial career as his prodigal gift ‘tinkling the ivories’ propelled him across America from the fifties to the seventies and at his most prominent, he was the highest paid entertainer in the world. Nonetheless his fame was thwarted by his extrovert persona and the mystery concerning his sexual orientation as he entered into a secret 6 year long relationship with much younger lover Scott (Matt Damon). The film explores their initially awkward romance and the transformational impact that ‘Lee’ has on Scott’s life with the aid of plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe), prescribing him diet pills and reconstructive facial surgery making Scott bizarrely resemble Liberace. Scott questions “wouldn’t it be weird looking in the mirror and not recognising myself?” until he is told by close friend Bob Black (Scott Bakula): “If Lee doesn’t get what he wants, you won’t be.” Further to his appearance and material demand, Damon expertly portrays Thorson’s whirlwind progression from an admiring fan to a indulged diva, an outlandish and overcome lover. His hesitant opening exchange of greetings with Bob over lucid slurs of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” in a hazy downtown bar, starkly contrast his eventual transition. Damon himself is ever increasingly making the right choices, furthering his repertoire in challenging, emotive roles and proving his versatility.
Douglas embraces the character of Liberace and embodies his mannerisms, affectations and enigmatic voice to perfection. Throughout the film he is seen to have a warm heart and despite the blatant distractions of fame and fortune, his only major flaw is his thirst for youthful romantic acceptance. There is humour in abundance from drunkenly vomiting in gay pornographic stores, to the baroque abnormality of their everyday lives which is sound tracked by twinkly piano music. Ornate set design and ostentatious costume epitomise the lavish tackiness of the superstar and his deliberate breakaway from the black suit and tie generation of entertainers before him. Production design is well complimented by a golden feel to the shots, symbolising not only his endless wealth, but harking back to a ‘golden era’. This cinematic choice is what one would imagine to be an example of HBO’s influence. Their compositional ingenuity in shows such as “True Detective” can be seen towards the film’s climax, as Scott reels with anger whilst taking cocaine as edgy angles supplement Damon’s restless upset.
Director Steven Soderbergh claimed the film was considered to be “too gay” by the Hollywood powers that be. In reality, it is not ‘that’ explicitly gay and the plain truth is unfortunately there is a limited demographic for a biopic on Liberace. Having said that, I really enjoyed the TV movie and I am glad that it received extensive television award recognition at the Emmys and Golden Globes. Hopefully this will soften the blow of the movie theatre snub.
IMDB Rating: 7.1
My Rating: 8