September 29, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

Steven Soderburgh, 2013

Soderburgh creates a glittery performance-driven picture, one that not only showcases the talent of Liberace the beloved American performer but also a figure who was very human - at times flawed and tempestuous. When the stage lights were on, the applause was loud. But when the curtains were closed, you see that the Liberace world was not all glamour. The qualities you see in Liberace's romantic life are qualities seen in any flawed relationship. Jealousy, manipulation, ego getting in the way. Unfortunately he lived in a place and time where he was bound to secrecy, fearing that if his sexuality was exposed it would be the end of his career. This of course would have elements that would spill into his relationships. His relationships would appear to be quite cyclical, when he's introduced to the new boy you can certainly see his past standing on the other side of the room.

Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) clearly comes off as a sympathetic figure in the film. Having to endure a turbulent upbringing, he's introduced to Lee and basically forced into a relationship with him. He's promised wealth and security. He later finds that those benefits will come at a high price. He finds he's also living in a world where he's not alone with Lee. There are many people the periphery - from managers, to assistants, to house staff. Soderburgh does a good job in pacing the genesis and the inevitable decay of the relationship. The arch of Scott's character feels quite authentic from the innocent eager-to-please young boy to the paranoid cocaine addict. 

Douglas gives one of the best performances of his career. Hopefully this does not overshadow Damon's performance because that was probably AS good. The editing is quite impressive, given that you assume Michael Douglas cannot play piano that well. Luckily there were not any distracting close shots of a pair of hands clearly not his. At first it almost looked as if Douglas' head was unevenly placed on the actual piano player, but it soon dissolved. There are also some great performances by Rob Lowe (probably the funniest character he's played), Dan Akroyd and Bob Black. It's disappointing that Soderburgh could not get funding for the film from the major studios (they said it was "too gay"). HBO came to the rescue, but the struggle seemed to have pushed him into his much publicized film sabbatical with a bad taste in his mouth. It should ultimately prove once again that we are now in a world where big-budget theatrical distribution is not the only release channel and there are now many avenues where a film can still be seen by many.

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