I remember reading about this Soderbergh’s biopic film project from one of N’s weekly rants. Behind The Candelabra, tells a story about a period of time of the pianist Liberace focusing on the duration where Liberace was involved with one of his lover, Scott Thorson. The film adapted from a memoir under the same name by Scott Thorson himself. Soderbergh did not manage to secure the finances to create this movie (apparently the refusal was because the film seemed too gay), until HBO films giving him the greenlight. The movie wouldn’t received a wide theatrical release, but it aired on HBO, and was eligible to compete for Palm d’Or at 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
The movie stretch from the 1977 to the 1986, during the duration where Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) met the superstar pianist (imagine the level of stardom is similar to Madonna perhaps). Liberace (Michael Douglas) instantly taken a liking toward the ‘young, blond adonis’. Inviting him to live with him and adorn him with all his wealth (in a form of kitchy, gilted opulence that made me think of something Louis XVI and a drag queen will give birth too). Coming from a poor, boring background, Scott accepted Liberace, and involved in a closeted romantic relationship with the pianist.
There’s an interesting dynamic on the relationship between the two men. This romantic relationship they both share started out as a sugar daddy type of relationship (a form of partnership commonly found between a younger person with an older, usually rich, companion). But Liberace also shows interest in adopting Matt as a son, stating that he’d like to start a legal procedure and will include Scott in his will, making Scott his partner, father, best friend, lover. Furthermore, when Liberace decided to aesthetic surgery, he wanted a procedure to be done on Scott as well, to made Scott look like the younger Liberace. These notions were mind blowing for me, the relationship was highly unconventional not because of its homosexual nature, but rather because of Liberace’s perversion and obsession of youth, beauty, and might be of himself. Liberace does not only want to have a partnership, he wanted to possess Scott, like a barbie doll that he can dress, play with, cut its hairs, and chopped off its legs.
The dynamic of their relationship combined with where each character is coming from become an interesting case to analyse. Liberace in his gaudy, over the top appearance, by the standard of today will be concluded as an old queen by anybody standard nowadays. But back in the 70s these things are still non issue, with the throng of adoring female fans and some beard (including Betty White), Liberace put on a front, and anybody who dare to say differently will be lost in court. If this movie would focus on Liberace as a man instead i would be significantly more drawn to it, but the subject has been seated at the back instead, focusing on the Scott rather selfish and insecure point of view of their relationship instead.
Michael Douglas is good as Liberace, with the lilt, the sway of the hips as his walk, his every gesture, embodying the fabulous Mr Showmanship himself. Matt Damon was playing Scott Thorson, a significantly younger character (17) compare to his actual age (42), especially at his best during his hissy fit moments. While Damon did good as Scott, I sort of wished they cast someone more age appropriate for this character, at the risk of sounding whiney, i just wish Damon doesn’t look like Cory Monteith in Glee (or at least one that can actually pull off that sequined thong). As separate characters Douglas and Damon did good, but together when they pose as lovers i wished for a more palpable chemistry that they did not deliver. Rob Lowe in a face full of prosthetics, an eerie reminder of Michael Jackson (may he rest in peace), as the plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz. I wonder why do they have to make him seen in all that make up, does it mean to enforce a sense of evil in his presence? (FYI, Dr Startz is responsible to numerous malpractice lawsuits due to a series of post-op mishap during his years of practice). Several actors including Scott Bakula, Cheyenne Jackson, Dan Akyrod, and Boyd Holbrook also made appearances.
Even with all the glitters of sequins, Swarovski crystals, and luxurious furs, Behind The Candelabra was forgettable for me. While the actors might done well, the story arc and highlights did not made me want to invest in any emotion. Of course almost falling asleep twice is sign enough for me.
More info about the film on IMDb