So my new Tuesday unemployment activity is going to the cinema, so I went to see Behind the Candelabra. Based on Scott Thorson’s kiss-and-tell memoir about his relationship with Liberace, the highest paid entertainer in the world during the 70s and 80s, who was also determined to keep his homosexuality a secret.
The movie, originally released in America on the HBO network, as it was deemed ‘too gay’ for cinema (even in the wake of Brokeback Mountain?) has now been on cinema release across Europe.
Behind the Candelabra is fast paced, we have around 15 or so years to fit into 2hours, and it does feel very quick, but each scene is essential to the story. The part of Liberace is played fantastically by Michael Douglas (who I have to admit, I’ve never particularly been a fan of). Considering Behind the Candelabra is based on a kiss-and-tell memoir (the credibility of which has been doubted by many in the lives of both men) the story is told very much from an outsiders perspective, you hear Liberace’s tales as Scott hears them, you know nothing of his life unless Liberace lets you in. Scott is played by Matt Damon, again against the type of role he is usually frequenting, Behind the Candelabra is really about Scott and his decent from a pretty good country boy who aspires to a career in vetinary care, into a drug fuelled bitchy, sour and ultimately destroyed human being. Because of this, Behind the Candelabra feels a little one sided, it appears to be Liberace’s doing that Scott becomes unbearable and unlikeable. This is hinted at when Scott meets Liberace’s current live-in-lover-assistant-house-boy-partner who is dismissive and rude to him, and subsequently forced to leave the Liberace palace so Scott can replace him.
The inevitable descent into living hell for Scott is inevitable and the tone and colouration of the film reflects this. The mood and humorous atmosphere darkens, becomes more seedier and sleazy. There is reference to particular clubs that Liberace apparently used to frequent, although as stated before the validity of this is under scrutiny. And this is where the film takes a dark turn, showing both Scott and Liberace’s low points. Behind the Candelabra is a poignant and beautifully made mix of highs and lows in the extraordinary lives of two men in a time when homosexuality was growing into it’s own identity.
Behind the Candelabra is a engaging and enjoyable film, I laughed, I almost cried, and I loved it! If the story doesn’t appeal, the costumes and makeup is a feature in itself, some of the laugh out loud moments come from the frozen-botoxed-face of Rob Lowe, as the cosmetic surgeon who cannot move a single muscle in his face.
The replica costumes, made from original designs owned by Liberace are absolutely stunning. Behind the Candelabra harks back to the B-Movie cinema of the late 80s-90s. It’s a high quality indie film (think Priscilla Queen of the Desert combined with Boogie Nights) it’s hugely enjoyable. The poignant ending scene (which I wont spoil) is camp and beautiful, tacky and wonderful, and reminded me of exactly why stories like this are perfect for the big screen.