Focusing on the tempestuous relationship between Liberace and Scott Thronson, Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra”, is an ode to kitsch in the handy packaging of a mainstream queer movie that the whole family can watch. Kind of.
“Behind the Candelabra” was filmed for HBO, for the simple reason that no major studio was willing to put its money behind a script that was deemed just too queer. The film itself, putting aside any biographical elements, is in essence a run-down of the love affair between two men, as they live through the rise and fall of an entire age.An uneven director even at his best, Soderbergh doesn’t do much, building Liberace’s overdone mansion from scratch, knowing full well that the strength of the story rests with the two men that dared to take on two of the hardest roles in the history of modern cinema.
Michael Douglas is simply heartbreaking as Liberace. He never oversells his role, but frequently launches flares of humanity behind the shiny costumes of his lead role, showing us a man hooked on his fame and a love that refuses to believe that anything can end, be it youth, glory or sex. Matt Damon plays the role of the man who left his personal stamp on Liberace’s twilight years, playing the role of lover, fanatical devotee and the American dream itself, carrying in his eyes all that which he hoped that Liberace could be for all time. When the two share the spotlight, they manage to shine through even the best of the film’s artistic direction, which tries to hit the high notes of Liberace’s kitsch universe, both on and off stage.
It is however a film that stubbornly refuses to go a little deeper, to find that place where people, having lost all their glittering costumes, are left naked and wondering what could make you love so passionately, so as to touch madness and pure hatred.
text: Manolis Kranakis