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I would not want to be the person shopping around a serious script in
Hollywood about the life of the famous pianist Liberace. It would be
the toughest of sells to a culture that would likely feel the material
is too dry and the demand too little. A slightly campier script, with
luxurious set design and intimate portrayals of characters the public
wouldn't likely know about is what I'd like to get my hands on. The
story of Liberace is stranger than fiction and dryer, more serious
material could've corrupted its overall goals and ambitions.
The film with the campier script, luxurious set designs, and intimate
portrayals is Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra, a wonderful,
limitless look at the life of Liberace, an enigma in every sense of the
word. In addition to playing many sold-out shows, the man had a
lovelife like no other at the time, meeting and becoming fast friends
with Scott Thorson, an aspiring veterinarian who was quickly made his
lover. Thorson seemed to have a genuine understanding of the loneliness
and lack of friendship Liberace had and provided him with great talks,
great compassion, and great sex.
The relationship, however, resulted in drug addiction, intense plastic
surgery, lies, mistrust, and ended with a lawsuit. Soderbergh and
writer Richard LaGravenese don't hesitate to explore this and make it
one of the deepest focuses in the picture. The relationships the men
had had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The scenes when
they are together in a hot tub are human and romantic. The scenes when
they are fighting are heartbreaking because you realize that these men
haven't just come so far to make their relationship work but losing
each other after so long would be detrimental to their self-esteems and
egos. They complete each other and that's where the magic is at its
Liberace is played by Michael Douglas in one of the bravest roles of
his career. So brave and powerful that it's unfortunate that because of
the film's TV movie status it is ineligible for an Academy Award
nomination. Douglas is an actor who is never conventional with his role
choice. The same man who played a common-man pushed off a cliff of
sanity, an executive victim to a consuming, real-life game, and a
worried father of a drug-addicted daughter is the same man playing a
middle-aged, flamboyant pianist with a love for wonder, music, and men.
The diversity in role choice is stunning.
Matt Damon appears at his youngest as Liberace's lover Scott, in an
equally conflicted, complex performance. Damon fills the shoes of the
role beautifully and effectively, giving off much in the way of
creative energy and heart as he shows just how stressed and torn
Thorson must've been in a relationship with someone who truly loved and
understood him but wanted to manipulate him. Supporting performances
from Rob Lowe as Liberace's doctor, prescribing medicines to both him
and Thorson and Dan Aykroyd as his manager are terrific and often are
seen providing strong comic relief.
For a TV movie to have the cinematography and atmosphere that Behind
the Candelabra does is truly a feature worth nothing. It may not be as
excessive as Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby - I don't expect anything of
the next two years to be on par with that film - but rarely has a TV
movie achieved such phenomenally vibrant and luscious standards. The
only thing that could make it better is Soderbergh proving he knows how
to work with it and he most certainly does.
HBO seems to be the go-to network for biographical films about figures
that wouldn't likely make appropriate return in the theaters (Behind
the Candelabra especially considering the summer movie season has
already hit the ground running). David Mamet, just a few months ago,
directed the delightful and shockingly unbiased Phil Spector, with
actors like Al Pacino and Helen Mirren receiving top-billing. Seeing as
a Liberace biopic is directed by none other than Soderbergh, I wouldn't
be surprised at seeing a slew of films about eclectic media figures
being made and released on HBO in the next few years. Networks that
have the drive and willingness to air these kinds of films are a
necessity to the success of film.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, and Dan Aykroyd.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
Tags for Behind the Candelabra Full Movie
, Eric Zuckerman
, Matt Damon
, Scott Bakula
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