Bringing Liberace back to life

Steven Soderbergh’s Emmy Award-winning Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra comes to Cinéma du Parc.

behind Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra

With 15 nominations and 11 wins, Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, pretty much owned this year’s Emmy Awards. The HBO film follows the last 10 years of the legendary piano player’s life and explores the secret affair that he had with the much-younger Scott Thorson, whose memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace, the film is based on.

To this day, Liberace’s career is impressive. His work spans four decades, during two of which he was the highest grossing entertainer in the world — but the man did live in secret, vehemently denying claims that he was gay and suing anyone who tried to say otherwise. And this, of course, is what the film focuses on.

A young animal-loving Thorson (Matt Damon) is introduced to Liberace (Michael Douglas) one evening after enjoying his performance. Thorson, who wants to be a vet, offers to care for one of Liberace’s dogs and from there a relationship develops. Everyone around Liberace tries to warn Thorson that he has a pattern of beginning a partnership with one man and then eventually dumping them for a fresh face when he tires of the old. But these warnings don’t sway him and eventually Thorson gives up on his veterinary dreams and moves in with Liberace.

Their relationship is one of abundance and you can’t really shake the feeling that Thorson is more of a pet than a lover. He’s cared for like a possession, even at one point undergoing plastic surgery at Liberace’s request to look more like the entertainer. Thorson begins to take drugs in order to stay trim and becomes an addict, leading to the entire relationship spiralling out of control and Liberace becoming unfaithful.

The performances by Douglas and Damon are indeed impressive. Douglas in particular, is unrecognizable. The set designs are incredible, the make-up and costumes are remarkable. But neither one of these characters is likeable. Liberace is a coward. To me, he’s just a selfish man who enjoyed and flaunted his wealth. Scott Thorson is no better as he played to Liberace’s tune for years, losing his autonomy. And for the past 25 years, he seems to have run around continuing to prod and poke people sayin’, “Remember me? I was Liberace’s secret boyfriend.” This kind of attention-seeking, afternoon talk show-type doesn’t really result in empathy.

The film is interesting and indeed deserving of praise, but the story itself isn’t as strong as its parts. ■

Behind the Candelabra opens today at Cinéma du Parc (3575 Parc)


Leave a Reply