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Behind the Candelabra

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There are laughs aplenty in Behind the Candelabra as it introduces us to the bright, zany world that was Liberace’s.

Candelabra is the latest film from director Steven Soderbergh, which originally aired on HBO in May and was so well received critically that it was given a theatrical release.

The film is based on the book Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, which was written by Scott Thorson (with the help of Alex Thorleifson). Thorson (Matt Damon) commenced his relationship with Liberace (Michael Douglas) as a fresh-faced 17 year old in 1977, while Liberace was a seasoned 57 year old.

The film covers the span of their five year relationship, one of Liberace’s last, as well as its aftermath. It is funny, but as the film progresses and the relationship sours, there are raw moments and this is testament to Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation for the script.

Liberace started his Vegas career in 1944 and by 1955 he was making $50,000 per week. His flamboyance, penchant for expensive jewellery, set-pieces and furs and extravagant, opulent home-decorating choices have now become known (he had a replica of the Sistine Chapel painted on his ceiling). However, Liberace’s manager Seymour Heller (a wonderful, understated performance by Dan Akyroyd) literally spent millions of dollars in order to paint the very opposite image of the star in the media – a very straight, talented man who has just not met the right woman yet.

There are no flash backs of Liberace in his saloon-singing days in the mid-west, no grainy stock footage of Liberace as a piano playing tot. There is however, a perfectly dramatized flashback in which Liberace recalls his reason for his faith and a few moments in which Liberace watches old footage of himself, recounting particular achievements and highlights proudly to his younger lover.

Debbie Reynolds, who was a close friend of Liberace in real life, is almost unrecognisable in the film as his mother, Frances Liberace. She has described the film as very ‘personal’.

Douglas perfectly embodies Liberace – a man who in his private life, behind the glittery curtain was vivacious, affectionate, generous and, yet, manipulative. He took Thorson under his crystal-cloaked wing and showered him with love, security, jewels, but at a cost. The film depicts how Liberace paid for Scott Thorson’s facial transformation. He wanted Scott to look like a younger version of himself.

Thorson’s resulting drug addiction and Liberace’s wandering eye ultimately resulted in a breakdown of the relationship. The scenes between Damon and Douglas, particularly during the turbulent times in the relationship are just brilliant. Shifts in power and vulnerabilities are delicately explored and their performances are certainly highlights of their already very successful careers.

I personally preferred Douglas in his sparkling get-up here than as Gordon Gecko and – dare I say it – Damon shows his talents more here than in the Bourne series. Really. Most certainly worth a watch.


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