Overlooked Classics: Behind The Candelabra

Wladziu Valentino Liberace, known as Lee to friends , was simply one name only- Liberace: the consumate showman, charming comic, and world- renowned pianist, dripping in furs and diamonds. He was also a narcissist.

Steven Soderbergh directs Michael Douglas in the lead role, with Matt Damon (“MATT… DAAAMON!”) supporting as Scotty Thorson.

It’s a brilliant piece of work. It could have descended into daytime TV style melodrama, with all the biopic clichés writ large in gargantuan neon letters, but since this is adapted from Thorson’s book, it’s really a skilful character study about the shifting vagaries of a toxic relationship, from lovebombing, to discarding. Douglas and Damon are both wonderfully nuanced here.

“I wanna be everything to you, Scott- father, lover, best friend”.

This is the first of many red flags. When Thorson meets Liberace after a show, the performer is instantly smitten. Scotty is seduced by his charisma (another huge red flag).

Douglas and Damon – a superb pairing

He sets about grooming Scotty to be everything he wants, giving him jobs as his personal dog carer, chauffeur and laterally, as tour guide of his fabulous showbiz home.

There’s a telling scene where Scotty is moving in as the ex is literally walking out the door. Scotty is shiny new supply. But inevitably, as is the case with narcissists, the shine wears off and two addictions set in: Liberace’s into cock; Scotty is nose-deep into cocaine.

But ultimately, the most bizarre dynamic in their relationship emerges when Liberace decides to ‘adopt’ Scotty, and gets his cosmetic surgeon (a ridiculous looking Rob Lowe) to make him look more like him. Mirroring taken to its logical conclusion, you might say.

Rob Lowe, almost unrecognisable as the cosmetic surgeon

Sure, it’s an absolutely crazy story. True life tales often are. But this is an immensely moving film, despite the excess. Of course it’s camp- look at the subject matter. But Soderbergh gets deep into the insecurities of both men, the toxicity, and fame’s negative impacts, and there’s a pathos where there could have been more monstrous characterisation. It’s really an oddly complex, beautiful film. You may find yourself crying before the end credits roll. I still believe it’s underrated.

Published by loreleiirvine

I'm a freelance arts monkey. Come see my brain vomit.

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