Monday, May 27, 2013

Behind the Candelabra - a few thoughts on f***king Liberace.

Steven Soderbergh's biopic of the late Liberace, Behind the Candelabra, premiered last night on HBO, and for the one hundred and some odd minutes it played, I could not turn my eyes away.

Based on the book of the same name by Liberace's ex partner, Scott Thorson,  the film tackles the tale of a show-business legend who becomes infatuated with a young man, takes him in, gives him clothing, jewels, a house, and a fleet of cars to show his affections.  And for awhile it's a wonderful life for both of them - each man supplying what the other needs.  But then, when Liberace insists that his partner undergo facial plastic surgery so that he will look like a  younger version of understands that this was probably one hell of a dysfunctional relationship (to say the least).

Matt Damon plays Thorson, and he's nothing short of brilliant.  Physically, Damon appears at first like some sort of late 70's disco angel - all feathered blond hair, delicate features and designer jeans...but as the story continues one watches his physical (as well as mental) metamorphosis into a drug addicted (thanks in part to Liberace's insistence that he loose weight by seeing a quack doctor who prescribes a boatload of pills --- said quack doctor played to the hilt by a barely recognizable Rob Lowe), reconstructed object that his mentor, eventually looses interest in.

Michael Douglas' take on the legendary and outrageous performer is actually quite good - in lesser hands, this might have teetered off into high camp, but somehow, Douglas manages to keep the parody at bay, and creates a rather grounded version of someone who often came off like a cartoon character.   That said, Douglas also shows us the darker side to "Lee" (as his friends called him).  A man who saw what he wanted and took it any way he could.  Behind that prancing, fey, dandy awash in capes and glitter, lay a brilliant entertainer, businessman, and predator.

Though she only appears briefly, Debbie Reynolds is marvelous as Lee's mother, Frances.  I think this might be the only time I've seen Reynolds in anything, and not known it was her right off the bat. 

But more than anything this is Damon's film, and Thorson's story.  The actor fleshes out a character that could easily have been seen as an opportunist and a hustler (and who knows, in reality, he may well have been), and infuses him with a heart and soul.  Are his actions pure?  Hardly, but it's tough to fault the Scott Thorson we see in this film for anything other than  allowing himself to be seduced by a man who offered him more than he could imagine in his wildest dreams. 


Lee and Scott - the real deal

No one but Scott Thorson really knows what went on in that gilded cage - that said, hitching your wagon to a closet case in the public eye is not the sort of job that makes for a happy ending, and being a star fucker of any sort, probably leaves a lot to be desired.  So if your job was fucking Liberace, one can only imagine the real hell that might have caused. 

For the record, in the real world:

* Liberace died of AIDS in 1987
* In 1989 Scott Thorson testified against Eddie Nash concerning the infamous "Wonderland Murders".
* After his testimony, Thorson entered the witness protection program.
* Some time in 1990 he was shot five times in a drug deal that went bad, but managed to survive.
* In 2012 it was reported that Thorson was diagnosed with stage II colon cancer.  He had allegedly made public pleas via the internet to help fund his medical treatments.
* As of the date of this posting, Scott Thorson is in prison charged with burglary and identity theft.

So much for happy endings.


  1. I've been looking forward to watching this, and your thoughts on it make me even more eager to see it!. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Like so many other women, my mother was a huge Liberace fan; he was on our tv at every opportunity. It'll be interesting to get a glimpse of the other side.

  2. PS. Nice use of f**king as both a verb and an adjective in the title. ;-)

  3. Well-written review. And well edited, I might add. :o)