Friday, 1 January 2016

Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Well I didn't quite make it before the end of 2015 to wish you all the best for this New Year, so I'll start 2016 with my hope for a memorable and rather more peaceful year ahead for all of us. Naturally I also hope for many memorable new movies to be released and for the chance to discover the many old films I have never seen on my infamous 'must see' list.

The above movie is one that nearly got away and certainly the best of the Christmas television offerings. Some of the other premieres mentioned in my last blog were just too dreadful for words, but in the line of duty I gritted my teeth and sat through them. This very entertaining film from director Steven Soderbergh was passed on by the major studios as 'too gay' and was finally financed by cable titan HBO. Although it was shown on pay-to-view Sky Box Office, it never appeared on Sky Atlantic which is their dedicated HBO Channel nor on any of their regular movie channels. I was beginning to despair of ever catching up with it until BBC2 scheduled it a few days ago.

Set in the 70s and 80s with great care taken over sets, clothing and hairdos appropriate to those years, it traces the romance -- for want of a better word -- between the flamboyant entertainer Liberace and his much younger lover and factotum Scott Thorson. Since the script is based on Thorson's own autobiographical 'novel', one would be foolish to accept this film as a faithful biopic (not that most biographical movies are free of embroidery), but rather as Thorson's self-interested reminiscence of their relationship.

The two leads are taken by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon -- two shining examples of heterosexuality -- but they both perform wonderfully as believable gays. Douglas in particular is virtually transformed into the mannered and vain pianist, to the extent that one nearly forgets the actor under Liberace's skin. It is probably one of his most accomplished roles, and its a pity that he was ineligible for Oscar consideration -- cable movies not being 'real' movies in the Academy's estimation, despite its being in competition at Cannes. Damon also shows considerably more range than he is usually afforded and makes a fine fist of it (no gay puns intended). The supporting cast is also first-rate with Scott Bakula as a procurer, still-beautiful Rob Lowe as a preening cosmetic surgeon Dr Startz who succeeds in hooking Thorson on drugs, a nearly unrecognizable Dan Aykroyd as Liberace's ruthless manager, and a completely unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds as his adored and doting mother.

It's nearly unbelievable that the entertainer's enthusiastic fans never cottoned on to his sexuality (and he never emerged from the closet even when stricken with AIDS). Douglas portrays him as a rounded character, tender and fatherly when it suits him, but downright power-hungry, controlling, and self-obsessed underneath. He promised Thorson the world and even spoke about adopting him (not that this ever happened) to the extent that he ordered surgery from Dr Startz to turn him into a 'mini-me'. (Incidentally the make-up transformation as the hunky Damon is 'Liberace-d' is beautifully done.) However, he did not hesitate to dump young Thorson when a more adventurous and better looking 'fish' appeared on his horizon. It was only, supposedly, on his deathbed that the gruesomely bald entertainer reconciled with Scott, his one true love. If you believe that, you can believe anything, since Liberace's one true love was himself, with only his mother as a close second.  
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