Entertainment legend Liberace was known as one of the greatest showman in the world. His flair, costumes and over-the-top persona dazzled audiences for decades. While he always denied it, behind the scenes he had many male lovers and partners. One of these men was Scott Thorson. Behind the Candelabra is his Scott’s story (based on his memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace) about the private side of a very public man.
Scott Thorson was Liberace’s companion, lover, assistant and friend for almost a decade. While the decade had its ups and downs, it was Scott that Liberace wanted to see at the end, before an AIDS-related illness took him in 1987. Scott (Matt Damon) met Liberace (Michael Douglas) through Bob Black (Scott Bakula), a Hollywood producer he had met at a gay bar, who had urged him to leave his home and live a little. Scott was in awe of Liberace, and it just so happened Liberace had taken quite a liking to him. On the proviso of hiring him as an “assistant”, Liberace moves Scott into his home in Las Vegas, and so begins their life together. Their relationship slowly deteriorated over the years, as Liberace became more controlling and shut Scott out, and Scott let the “Californian Diet” (drugs) control his life. Built on a foundation of attraction and power, was their love real or were they merely in love with what they got from each other? In the end the pair made each other so miserable that it was hard to remember that love was ever present.
While Liberace may have filled his world with sequins, gold and lavish materials, this was merely part of the show – an extravagant set which he performed his life on. For as well as being the one of the world’s greatest entertainers, he also put on a fine show in regards to his private life. Performing night after night to crowds of straight audiences, Liberace lamented that he hadn’t met the right women, when in fact in was the love of the right man he sought. Actively denying stories which reported he was gay, he hid that part of his life away within the confines of his ostentatious home and deluxe dressing room. It is the production design that Behind the Candelabra did so very well. Gaudy would be one word to describe it; hollow would be another. For all the furs, crystal vases, plush sofas and art, the world on the screen was empty, and so very sad. The beautiful material items only heightened the emptiness felt by those who inhabited it.
Performances from Douglas and Damon are quite simply, outstanding. Douglas embraced the over-the-top persona of the great showman and he absolutely ran with it. Who knew he had that voice in him? However, it was Damon who impressed me the most. The role of Scott Thurson is far less showy than that of Liberace, and yet Damon manages to hold his own in every scene. I won’t forget the image of him flouting around in a jeweled pair of swimmers any time soon. Despite feeling uneasy at the man who Scott becomes, we can’t help but emphasis with the once love-struck man who came from nothing, and was handed everything on a silver platter by Liberace. Rob Lowe’s appearance certainly garnered plenty of laughs from my audience; however I found the character to be a bit too much. Do people like him really exist?
While performances and production design(not to mention costume and make-up) are tops, it’s the story itself where Behind the Candelabra disappoints. It falls into the trap of being too episodic – something which plagues many biopics. The film jumps from event to event, never really giving the story enough time to develop. This resulted in the tone of the film being quite disjointed. At first it was a comedy, then a drama with comedic moments, and then something altogether more sad. I didn’t feel that the transition between the different stages in their relationship was handled particularly well. At almost 2 hours long, the film does drag in stages; and I felt myself becoming less engaged in the film, as the characters became less engaged with each other. Is this really director Steven Soderbergh’s last foray in feature film directing? I certainly hope not. He is capable of better story telling than this.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer(s): Richard LaGravenese (screenplay)
Starring: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe
Runtime: 118 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 25 2013