"Behind the Candelabra"

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Tarantella
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Joined: Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:09 am
Location: Sydney, Australia

"Behind the Candelabra"

Post by Tarantella » Wed Sep 11, 2013 11:39 pm

I've seen this film only recently. Soderbergh is a competent director, but I wouldn't say a particularly interesting one if this film is any measure. "Behind the Candelabra" obviously took some of its influence from Irwin Winkler's 2004 biopic of Cole Porter, "De Lovely" - particularly the linking of musical sequences to aspects of the narrative, as well as the use of mise-en-scene contrasting artifice with reality. "Behind the Candelabra" resorted to stereotype in its portrayal of the gay coterie with which Liberace surrounded himself. I wondered whether this was a reflection of the superficial Liberace and, therefore, "real" in terms of his perceptions or "real" inasmuch as the entertainment industry has its own unique self-parodying, delimiting behaviours which would permit them to take stereotypes and fakes so 'seriously'. I suspect the latter, however some gay friends have suggested to me that this would be an accurate depiction of what it would have be like in Liberace's world. In any case, I felt the Coen Brothers could have done much more with this film which would have held my attention and made it far more compelling.

The film is based upon the book by Scott Thorson, one of Liberace's lovers. I was very impressed with the performance of Matt Damon as Thorson and I'd never realized before just how beautiful he is! This was essentially Damon's film, despite the title role belonging to Michael Douglas, which at first I found interesting and impressive, but which descended into one-dimensionality: he'd found the 'voice' and the body language (impersonation) but didn't really know how to use this to 'inhabit' the character and develop it further. Perhaps this was the fault of the script which threw away ideas without further development; for example, when Liberace's mother dies he confesses to Thorson that "I feel free". There was one strongly viable narrative arc which was discarded - it would have told us quite a lot about Liberace's problems with intimacy - because the film concentrated instead on his promiscuity and faithlessness and Scott Thorson's rather one-sided love for him. Apart from one 'intimate' scene where Liberace removes his toupee and reveals his bald head, their relationship is defined onscreen predominantly through sex - many scenes are played in the spa or the bedroom - and then it strays into bizarre territory; for example, Liberace pays for Thorson to have plastic surgery so that he'll resemble the pianist - and there are psycho-sexual aspects to the relationship linking it tangentially with incest. But the film didn't engage with this beyond what was, ultimately, quasi comedic. The role of the plastic surgeon was played by Rob Lowe, complete with squint-eyes caricaturing a cocaine-fuelled fantasy which merely aroused belly laughs.

Thorson had spent his youth being shunted from one foster home to another and this aspect of his book could have made an interesting sub-text in the film which would have created an audience perception that Thorson was more than another of Liberace's trophies and florid, decadent adornments.

It's disturbing to realize just how contemptuous entertainers like Liberace were and are toward their audiences - dishing them up 'pap' and being absolutely condescending and smug about it!! The music itself is dreadful and the meretricious decor in Liberace's home is a tasteless reminder that you can laugh "all the way to the bank" and not have a scintilla of class.

It is somewhat daring subject matter for a mainstream Hollywood audience but is sure to garner some awards because of the "bravery" of its stars!!

Wallingford
Posts: 4513
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:31 pm
Location: Brush, Colorado

Re: "Behind the Candelabra"

Post by Wallingford » Mon Sep 16, 2013 7:11 pm

Wow--thanks for quelling my high hopes for this film. I'm considering myself warned.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

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