Liberace (pronounced Liber-acchi) was a gifted pianist and vocalist with a larger than life persona and a talent for grandstanding. During the 1950s–1970s he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world.He was also gay and deceitfully secretive about it, suing newspapers that alleged he was gay.Of the many lovers that he had, probably his relationship with Scott Thorson was the deepest and perhaps the closest he came to having a real spouse.
Behind The Candelabra is the latest film by Steven Soderbergh, and according to him, his last.After watching this film I fervently hope he changes his mind.In this film two very fine actors entertain us for two hours in performances that are dazzling and very brave. Michael Douglas plays Liberace with the fervent zeal of an aging star who knows he is getting old but refuses to allow his age to come in way of doing what he knows best- seduction.From Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, to Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, to Demi Moore in Disclosure, he is always part of the sexual exploitation equation.His performance is a celebration of the art and craft of acting and the fun that Douglas has with playing Liberace shines through on screen.
Here his relationship with Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) is traced through the same arc that must follow when a very rich and hedonistic old man falls for a young bimbo.He just wants to enjoy the goods.Matt Damon as the Bimbo is justifying to himself, as love, his hankering for the high life. He embodies confusion, self loathing and a sense of betrayal. But as it may happen, the flakiest of relationships built on lies can acquire some truth.Scott has lived in foster homes all his life and finds the whole package that Liberace offers, too good to resist.Liberace is jealous, manipulative, vain and a nymphomaniac. Scott is bisexual or at least imagines himself to be.He is the latest in a long line of lovers that Liberace took and discarded with a cheque.We know it will not end well, but thats not the point at all.
There are no major surprises in their relationship.But the fact that it was between two men, made it far more complicated.At one point Liberace wants to adopt Scott as his son, a decision which of course had much to do with the fact that he was not openly gay and gay marriage was illegal. He is surrounded by people who are out to exploit him including his mother and brother that we never see.Having Scott as a son and a lover kills two birds with one, but at this point Liberace is a sincere hunter, never mind the looming spectre of incest. This makes an oblique or maybe an inadvertent case for gay marriage.If Liberace was openly gay and could marry Scott he undoubtedly would have and both their lives would have been infinitely better as a result.The often vilified institution of marriage would have imposed a framework of constraints and compromises which might have benefited them both.When the end comes for Liberace we see quite clearly that his homosexuality and his public denial of it was his undoing.Scott fares better because he is not hamstrung by being a celebrity.
In his swan song, Mr Soderberghs craft is impeccable, his use of music inspired and the decisions he makes on what to show and what to keep out, near perfect.This film invites us to delve deeper beneath its glittering surface of a juicy tale of romance and betrayal between two men.He also indicts the cosmetic surgery industry with panache and wit.To some viewers Behind the Candelabra will seem to reinforce their prejudices against gays while others may walk away thinking relationships are complicated even if you are gay.But I have no clue how members of the LGBT community will react to this material.If you have an inkling, do write in, but the film is a must watch nonetheless.