Behind The Candelabra

Art & Culture

There was a time when Liberace (not his real name) was the highest paid performer on the planet. This is the story of his love affair with Scott Thorson, which is both sweet and sad. It is also Steven Soderbergh’s last film – and one of his best.

When Scott met Lee (Liberace’s private name), Scott was a 19 year old animal handler on B movies, naive, gay and coming from a broken home. Liberace (Michael Douglas) took to him at their first meeting, and had soon employed him, both professionally and in bed. Scott (Matt Damon) was enthralled by the emotional and material affection lavished on him, but after a few years of non-marital bliss (there was some talk of an adoption) and a face lift (one each), he developed a serious drug habit (Liberace had a rug habit – with a wig), which made the eventual and inevitable break up even messier than it might have been.

It is common for older richer and more successful people to take up a younger model, sweep them off their feet, dote on them, and then discard them for another, younger, model. But it still seems to come as a shock to the one who is rejected, which is in some ways what makes the film so sweet. Scott clearly loves Liberace, for whatever reason. After all, there was a 40 year age gap between them. But one of the film’s many strengths is Michael Douglas’s performance as Liberace. He manages to convey the star’s charisma, charm and sweet-natured generosity as well his paranoia, narcissism, vanity and materialistic self-obsession. The only (pathetic) reason why he won’t be Oscar nominated is because the film was made for HBO in the USA (too gay for Hollywood, apparently), and was shown on television there, which rules him out.

Damon too, deserves a lot of credit. Not many actors of 42 could look plausibly like a young man 20 years younger, but he does. And like Douglas, he manages to convey an emotional range – boyish, passionate, drug-fuelled and rather lonely. And if, as he says it will be, this is Soderbergh’s last film, it’s a great note to go out on. Soderbergh has always been a master of inconspicuous dexterity, his camera and editing always producing interesting and original perspectives, which make his films feel fresh and engaging. He also brings out the best in actors.

There may be those amongst you who don’t like the idea of seeing a film about two gay men (no, I know, not you), but this is at heart a love story. Not like Brokeback Mountain, but in its own way very well worth seeing, and worth overcoming your prejudices.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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