Thursday, 13 December 2018

Behind the glitz of a boogie pianist

LIBERACE was determined that he should go to his grave with his reputation intact

Review by Lesley Potter

Behind The Candelabra
Certificate: (15)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Scott Bakula

LIBERACE was determined that he should go to his grave with his reputation intact. In other words, despite being a predatory old queen who visited porn video shacks after shows, he was determined his fans should never even dream he was gay.

It’s almost incredible to think that only 30-odd years ago he could have hoodwinked so many people.

The Liberace depicted brilliantly in this biopic by Michael Douglas is camp as knickers — the frilliest, laciest French silk knickers you could find, in fact.

The script is adapted from a biography written by his live-in lover and assistant, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) and opens when the 17-year-old bisexual sees the 57-year-old pianist on stage in Las Vegas.

“It’s funny this crowd would like something this gay,” he says to his friend, looking round at the coach-loads of old ladies who make up the bulk of the audience.

“Oh, they have no idea he’s gay,” his friend replies.Liberace, meanwhile, is sitting at a silver sequined grand piano, jiggling his chunky gold ring-embellished fingers over the keyboard in a boogie-woogie number.

His “palatial kitsch” home is all French gilt mirrors, Ionic columns and sumptuous velvet drapes, his costumes ripple with rhinestones and ostrich feathers. He is the epitome of excess — and we’re not just talking about his appearance.

The impressionable and vulnerable young Scott falls immediately under the spell of his generous mentor, so much so that he even agrees when Liberace insists on plastic surgery to make him look like a younger version of himself.

You are never really sure what the basis of this friendship is — there’s sex, but there’s also a strange daddy/son thing going on — and their relationship soon flounders.

Douglas puts in the performance of his life as the simpering, vain but loveable entertainer, and Damon is equally a joy to watch. The cast list is a cornucopia of talent, with Dan Aykroyd as the hard-nosed and cynical agent and Rob Lowe as the pill-popping plastic surgeon with a face as taut as a starched sheet.

Soderbergh made this film for cable TV — partly because its subject matter is not one that would go down well in your average Bible Belt local cinema, and Hollywood bosses would avoid it like a dose of leprosy — but with all this flamboyance and OTTness, it certainly sits well on the big screen. It’s by turns sad, uncomfortable and funny — but it sure is a blast.

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