01 June 2013

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Matt Damon as Scott Thorson and Michael Douglas as Liberace
in Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra

"I can't believe Liberace was gay. I mean, women loved him. I didn't see that one coming." - Austin Powers (as penned and delivered by Mike Myers in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery)

My Mom tells this story about seeing Liberace once. She was in Atlanta (circa 1981) for a baseball game I believe, newly-married to my Dad. They had driven down to stay a couple days and were in a nice hotel. Then a blue limousine pulls up to the hotel. And out walks Liberace. Mom said she started screaming his name. "Oh! That's Liberace!! Liberace! Liberace!" She followed him into the hotel and as he got on the elevator surrounded by his entourage, adorned in the finest bejeweled suit, he looked at my Mom, smiled, and waved. 

Coincidentally, I also got my first introduction to Liberace alongside my Mom in the form of a random quote by Mike Myers in a silly comedy movie. For many years, that quote was the only thing I knew of Liberace. That people should've known he was gay but didn't. That stuck with me for some reason. I still think the line is funny.

Early on in Steven Soderbergh's newest film Behind the Candelabra, a young gay man named Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) is on a date with a man who has recently picked him up in a bar named Bob (Scott Bakula) to see Liberace live in Las Vegas. Scott looks at Bob and in disbelief, for he can't fathom, first, how entertaining and fabulous it all is, how talented Liberace is as both an entertainer and musician, and, second, in that he wonders aloud how regular people can enjoy something that is "so gay." Bob replies, "They don't know he's gay."

If there was still any shred of a doubt out there, Soderbergh and his writer, Richard LaGravenese, working from source material from the real Scott Thorson, have beaten it down and left it for dead. The fact is that Liberace was very obviously gay, and Mr. Soderbergh's excellent biopic from HBO Films makes that very well clear. Set towards the end of Liberace's career (late '70s/early '80s), the movie actually is very matter-of-fact about it all. It is very clear and straightforward and incredibly entertaining, especially as the Liberace-Thorson relationship develops. The movie is very well-paced, covering around 10 years in right at two hours. As the story played out, I found myself enjoying it more and more.

Michael Douglas (as Liberace) is sure to find himself winning every single TV award there is this year. His performance is better than anything he's ever done for sure. He looks like him, sounds like him, has his mannerisms down, and allows the audience the opportunity to finally get to the know the real Liberace. A gay man, who loved gay sex, and had no problems with the fact that he was gay. He was very proud of his sexuality. But was also a man with juxtaposing conservative values and a somewhat strong faith in God and the Roman Catholic church. The man is interesting. Liberace had a way of entertaining people to the point where they just denied the obvious signs that he was gay and loved him anyway. Scott Thorson (Damon) was simply a young man who got caught up in the delight that was Liberace, made himself stay when it got uncomfortable, and continued to love the man even after the man was done with him.

Behind the Candelabra is an expertly made biopic. The costume design, the cinematography, the acting (especially the acting) and directing are as flamboyant as Liberace himself. And Rob Lowe makes a supporting turn that is absolutely hilarious and may alone be the reason you should watch this movie. To be fair, there is gay sex and talk of gay sex and some of it is graphic. I don't know what I expected, but I applaud this film's daring. The daring of the actors, the daring of the characters, of people willing to live such a life of excess and tell the whole truth about it. 

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