Article Title:Review: Behind the Candelabra
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:30th July 2013 - 04:05 am
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Story ID:13715
Text:Behind the Candelabra Director: Stephen Soderbergh Starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Akroyd, Debbie Reynolds. Michael Douglas as Liberace Walter Liberace lived in a bubble, where his fame, personality, appetites and money ensured that he was rarely contradicted, where his every wish was granted by those who fawned over him. He was an excellent if slightly idiosyncratic pianist and a brilliant showman. He had charm and drive and a love of tacky, rococo splendour. As one of the USA's highest profile and highest-paid performers he had the resources and the smarts to create and sustain his bubble. Part of the fabric of the bubble was the pretense, maintained all his life, that he was the straight and talented mama's boy so beloved of his primarily female fans and audiences from the 1950s until his death from an AIDS-related illness in 1987. Into this bubble walked the unwitting Scott Thorsten, a restless sixteen-year old studmuffin straight from the farm. The two collided, fell in love and began a slow descent into relationship hell which would see only one of them survive intact... even if he was dead. Scott Thorsten, according to his own recounting of his time with Liberace, became a corrupted martyr-like figure, the moth that flew too close to the flame, the innocent abroad in shark-infested waters. And, charming and talented and loveable as he was, Liberace was one of those sharks. In a scenario worthy of the grandest Greek tragedy, Liberace survived the relationship only to die soon after. Thorsten survived to live on as a corrupted man, physically and emotionally distorted, a living waxwork testament to what happens when one man's un-moderated personality is projected on to a more or less blank and slightly damaged canvas. Behind the Candelabra is magnificently acted and beautifully filmed. Liberace's life is splendidly recreated, fairly accurately by all accounts. It is awash with tacky baubles, damaged personalities - including that of Liberace himself, and creepy as hell. Plot-wise it's a little slow to build up steam but that just gives us time to settle into the characters. Michael Douglas is quite wonderful as Liberace. He doesn't skip a beat. Matt Damon as Thorsten is even better, totally believable and compelling. In lesser roles, Rob Low almost steals the movie as a slimy drug- and cosmetic surgery-addled Hollywood doctor; Dan Ackroyd as Liberace's manager is a darkly dour presence always hovering on the edges of the doomed relationship; and Debbie Reynolds portrays Liberace's mother as a creature of charm and self-obsession, a precursor of the son who both loves and can't wait to see the back of her. The recreation of a type of gilded and affluent gay life aspired to by many gay men in the liberating, hedonistic '70s, here in New Zealand as well as in the USA, is spot on. That Damon is so believable as Thorsten and so central to the movie is certainly due to his acting skills but also to the fact that Behind the Candelabra is based on Thorsten's tell-all book, published just a year after Liberace's sensational unmasking as a homosexual dying of AIDS-related illness in the early, scary, nasty days of the epidemic. Liberace is dead and only Thorsten is alive to tell of the pair's intimate time together. He was clearly damaged goods when he co-wrote the book, he may even still be so. So in the end this is Thorsten's movie, his life portrayed according to his own version of events. If the book was thus flawed, and it probably was, the movie carries those exact same flaws. But, flaws and all, it's still an excellent and creepily compelling movie. Jay Bennie - 30th July 2013    
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