Behind The Candelabra

Liberace up close

This American drama is about the last ten years in the life of pianist, Liberace, and the affair he had with Scott Thorson. The film is based on Thorson’s personal memoir, published in 1988.

Bisexual Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), worked as an animal trainer, when his current partner, Hollywood producer, Bob Black (Scott Bakula), introduced him to Liberace (Michael Douglas), the legendary pianist. Liberace was attracted immediately to the younger man. Impervious to a trail of rejected personal assistants, Liberace hires Scott and they embark on an intimate affair that lasted for five years.

As their relationship continued, Scott realises that Liberace is trying to mould him into a younger version of himself, even to the point of wanting to transform him facially with the help of a drug-crazed plastic surgeon (Rob Lowe). Scott rebels, and retreats into drugs, and his relationship with Liberace is affected. As arguments between them increase, Liberace’s promiscuity destroys what is left of his relationship with Scott, and he throws Scott out. Later, dying of Aids, Liberace asks Scott to come to his bedside where they affirm their attachment to each other. The film concludes with Scott attending Liberace’s funeral, and imagining that Liberace is playing his piano one last time.

Debbie Reynolds has a cameo role as Liberace’s elderly Polish mother, Frances, who prefers not to think too much about the kind of person her son has become. And a sentimental musical score suitably enhances the film’s overall mood.

It is hard to reconcile Michael Douglas’s aggressive heterosexual persona in “Fatal Attraction” (1987) with his role here as the extravagantly gay, homosexual pianist. Douglas’s performance as Liberace is outstanding, as is Damon’s performance as Liberace’s lover. The impact of the movie is reinforced by the flamboyant set designs and flowing costumes used to bolster Liberace’s image as a musical showman.

This is a stylish, entertaining, film about celebrity loneliness. Its sexual scenes are not very explicit, though the message is never lost about the physical side of the relationship that existed between Scott and Liberace. Beneath the hedonistic life-styles, which the film dramatically projects perhaps too glamorously, Soderbergh depicts two vulnerable people, who have tried unsuccessfully to belong to each other  - Peter Sheehan, ACOFB

Starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, and Debbie Reynolds. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong themes and sex scenes). 119 min.

Behind The Candelabra

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