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  Behind the Candelabra Pianist Envy
Year: 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Scott Bakula, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Morris, Garrett M. Brown, Cheyenne Jackson, Tom Papa, Bruce Ramsay, Nicky Katt, Paul Reiser, Boyd Holbrook, Mike O'Malley, Deborah Lacey, David Koechner, Susan Todd
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: In 1977, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) was an animal trainer for Hollywood productions having previously been a vetinary assistant, living with his foster parents and visiting gay bars in his spare time. This is where he met Bob Black (Scott Bakula), who invited him over to watch the world famous pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) play a concert in Las Vegas where Scott was so surprised such an obviously gay show would appeal to such a conservative, straight audience. Bob had the reason: they had no idea he was homosexual, but Scott did, and when they met backstage it was the beginning of something...

Subtext is an interesting thing, and it was all the way through the celebrity musician Liberace just as it was through this biopic of his final years, courtesy of director Steven Soderbergh who had thought Thorson's tale, as delineated in his trashy tell-all book, was fascinating enough to build a movie around. Therefore, for what Soderbergh claimed would be his final film as director, Behind the Candelabra was eventually made for HBO in America thanks to various obstacles the production found in its way: seriously as far as health went, Michael Douglas was hospitalised with cancer treatment, a disease he managed to beat.

And curiously, they couldn't find anyone who wanted to make a gay-themed work. Not for cinemas anyway, though while this aired on television in the States, other countries played it theatrically as intended, and the world did not end as a result. You might have thought a movie with this amount of star power would have sold it to mainstream audiences - in the smaller roles there were fairly big names, even if they did get made up heavily so that in some cases you wouldn't twig that they were in it if you had not read the credits. Add to that this being one of those growing number of biopics and based on real events efforts which began to proliferate.

The idea was that you would get a good idea of what the people involved would actually be like by watching their deeds re-enacted by other famous people, and sometimes they didn't have to be famous to be recreated for the screen, they simply needed a good story to tell. Given the man behind the showman in Liberace's case, this could have gone overboard with the facts and created an embellishment of the sort Tim Burton did for Ed Wood, but where that played fast and loose with the truth to fashion a sense of time, place and character, strangely Soderbergh preferred to make his telling of his subject like a sitcom of the era, with comedy situations made weirdly macabre by a lot of what was happening.

The best example of that would be the plastic surgery, with Rob Lowe on excellent form as the bizarre surgeon who claims to not only make Lee (as his friends called him) look younger, but on his instruction make Scott resemble his Lee. Thorson was forty years younger than Liberace in reality, but here Matt Damon played him with makeup, not quite convincing as a twenty-year-old in spite of that, but giving a performance as a male Farrah Fawcett type allowing you to overlook such decisions. Yet while Scott is the main character as we see this madness through his eyes (it didn't seem to do him much good after he and Liberace broke up), Michael Douglas stole the film from a lot of competition, including Dan Aykroyd as the abrasive manager and Debbie Reynolds as Mrs Liberace - Lee's mother who retains a definite hold over him, just one instance of Soderbergh and Richard LaGravenese's script inviting you to analyse what you were seeing. Douglas was so good you forget you're watching him act, a cliché perhaps, but accurate here; just a pity the film's domesticity lacked Liberace's famed flamboyance.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Steven Soderbergh  (1963 - )

Versatile American writer, director and producer whose Sex Lies and Videotape made a big splash at Cannes (and its title has become a cliche). There followed an interesting variety of small films: Kafka, King of the Hill, noir remake The Underneath, Schizopolis (which co-starred his ex-wife) and Gray's Anatomy.

Then came Out of Sight, a smart thriller which was successful enough to propel Soderbergh into the big league with The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Oscar-winning Traffic and classy remake Ocean's 11. When Full Frontal and his Solaris remake flopped, he made a sequel to Ocean's 11 called Ocean's 12, material he returned to with Ocean's 13. Che Guevara biopics, virus thriller Contagion and beat 'em up Haywire were next, with the director claiming he would retire after medication thriller Side Effects and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. He returned after a period of even greater activity with heist flick Logan Lucky and his first horror, Unsane.

 
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