Behind the Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh, was aired in the US some time back, but European interest in it has been piqued by it’s positive recent screening at Cannes (though it failed to pick up any major prize in the end), and praise for Michael Douglas’s performance as Liberace, the rhinestone encrusted camp performer.
It’s Douglas’s performance that pulls the film above it’s otherwise light weight TV bio pic feel. He puts in a bravado performance as late era Liberace, desperate to hang onto his rapidly ageing looks and young lovers. While perhaps not quite an Oscar worthy performance (and in any case it’s ‘made for TV’ credentials and the release timing would seem to rule it out for any Academy Awards) it is nonetheless a brave performance. Douglas manages to evoke sympathy, bemusement and occasionally queasiness. The morning after first bedding the youthful Scott, played by a very buff Matt Damon, the ageing lothario leans forward, his wizened face pulled into focus, and murmurs salaciously “Look who’s up” before disappearing under the bed clothes.
Matt Damon as Scott, Liberace’s companion, employee and lover for five years, puts in a nicely under stated performance, with Rob Lowe providing a comedic turn as the pastic surgeon, and a rare outing for Dan Akroyd, as Liberace’s agent, desperately trying to keep his employer’s sexuality a secret.
Incredibly, despite his fondness for buff men, small dogs, and outsize appetite for outragous kitch, Liberace continued to deny his homosexuality right up to the end. But as the 1980’s entered, and the rumours & press intrusion became greater, along with a lawsuit from Scott, it proved harder and harder to keep it a secret.
Ultimately it was death that finally revealed the man behind the candelabra, the California coroner’s office refusing to accept the cause of death as heart complications, and instead ordering a new autopsy, and revealing that the entertainer had died of complications from Aids. Michael Douglas, himself suffering from serious health issues recently, pulls no punches in playing out the closing scenes, bald, gaunt, with a near death grey pallor, with all of the flamboyant vivaciousness of the great performer mercilessly stripped away by disease.
Despite the end, the film is an enjoyable romp, and worth seeking out, if only to see Michael Douglas as you’ve never seen him before