Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Behind the Candelabra

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th June, 2013

Michael Douglas as LiberaceI loathed Liberace, though I confess that when I was a teenager I succumbed to a morbid fascination and always watched him on TV when I saw he was coming on. I hated the way he played the piano, despite his obvious dexterity. His over-the-top costumes made me squirm, all the more so when the peroxide-blonde ladies of a certain age in the casino audience in Las Vegas cooed and drooled in appreciation. And most of all, I despised him for the way that he not only publicly denied his sexual orientation, but even sued a British publication for saying he was gay. Of course I was saddened when he died of an AIDS-related illness (though nowhere near as much as when the same thing happened earlier to Rock Hudson). But it was only this evening, watching Steven Soderbergh’s extraordinary film, Behind the Candelabra, that I felt some sympathy, even compassion, for the outrageous showman. The story of the film is based on the true life relationship that he had with an initially naive, animal-loving young man who was wowed by Liberace’s talent and fame, moved in with him and his many dogs and who, despite his bisexuality, becomes Liberace’s near-marital partner, until the relationship disintegrates under the pianist’s control freakery and the young man’s insecurity. Michael Douglas’s performance as Liberace is simply astonishing, far more than just an impersonation (though that it is): it is a brilliant interpretation of the complex man and his own demons, some appeased by his hanging on to his Catholic faith despite his sex life, his love of ‘adult entertainment’ and the apron-strings of his domineering mother. Matt Damon as his acolyte-turned-lover has a more difficult task, but captures well the confusion and internal contradictions of a person of limited intellectual or emotional maturity who finds himself well out of his depth. Absolutely a film to go to see, whatever you thought of the old charlatan Liberace in real life.

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