Friday, May 24, 2013

Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra! Oh, that naughty Liberace!

Screens at TIFF May 26th, 9 p.m. Streams Live / HBO,  fresh from Cannes Debut

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Written by Richard LaGravenese, based on book by Scott Thorson

Starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon

Rating 3.5/5

The highly anticipated biopic of Liberace in his later years stars a brilliantly transformed Michael Douglas as Lee and Matt Damon as his driver/lover Scott Thorson, set against a gilt and mirror fantasy land that acts as a character.  The cheese camp factor is higher than high, as Soderbergh told Deadline ““Here are two Oscar-winning stars, heterosexual icons, and they are gaying it up like nobody’s business”, but irons itself out.  By the end the film is something altogether different and emotional.  

Douglas and Damon are totally committed to their roles and do great work.  Liberace’s signature personal style is well known, and Douglas nails it.  Thorson isn’t known outside archival news footage but Damon creates a recognisable identify.  Both deserve kudos for what they’ve achieved in telling this story, a combination of fairy tale excess and humiliation, with some realism.
Liberace’s late life “divorce” from chauffeur Scott Thorson made screaming headlines in the mid-eighties. And Liberace had never publically acknowledged being gay.  The naïve Thorson had few resources to fight and Liberace the highest paid performer in the world had canny lawyers and a savvy right hand man Seymour Heller.  Thorson demanded $113M, he received $95k.  Liberace had promised to look after him for life and lavished gifts on him, but he denied the agreement and reclaimed the booty.

The reason for the break, according to the film, was Liberace’s voracious sexual appetite and habit of taking protégés under his wing. Thorson knowingly replaced one when he moved in with “Lee”.  And then it was his turn to be tossed aside when a younger make and model came along.   There were problems with their sex life that “forced” Lee to look elsewhere.  Who knows the truth?

An interesting choice for Soderbergh’s “last” film. He will apparently no longer make features, but stick to TV series and documentaries.   Soderbergh has stated that he is dismayed by the state of the film business today.  Nevertheless, he poured money and heart into this project which celebrates the Liberace legacy, acknowledging his years as one of the world’s most beloved entertainers, and what went on behind the gold and crystal walls.   It’s juicy, gorgeous in its own way, and runs the gamut of emotions, faked and real. 


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