With the opportunity to tell the Liberace story on HBO, Steve Soderbergh could have either told a pop music story or a gay extravaganza of the 1970s, instead he told a soap opera about an aging queen and his junkie young boyfriend. What could have stood as a wonderful over the top musical, like a cross between “Tommy” and “The Wizard Of Oz” is an over earnest bore.
Liberace, well but tediously enacted by Michael Douglas, is a huge star of what is a genre no longer in existence: classical pop. He played on the piano and sang well enough to thrill middle America, especially the women 45 plus demo, and he performed ostentatious, flashing, lights, flights and furs, matched with jewels.
Liberace was also a closeted homosexual in an era where his options were extremely limited. America’s worst kept secret but even at his death of AIDS in 1987 his management were trying to falsify the coroners report.
“Behind The Candalebra” is a kind of twilight of the gods, with Liberace older now, in the last act of his life, playing residency in Las Vegas and with a succession of cute young men coming towards the latest replacement when Liberace meets vet assistant Scott Thorsen (Matt Damon) and begins a ten year affair.
It is sad, slightly tawdry story. Of all the things Liberace wasn’t, what he was was larger than life and if you want to bring him down to human levels, why bother. There are a number of live performances but they all seem much a do about nothing in this day and age, Liberace died with $115M in his bank account not by being a small thing.
What remains of Liberace in 2013, is perhaps more a social kaleidoscope of gay culture being sold to mainstream America. The shows on TV are pleasant and the music is middle of the road “MOR” but good MOR. Pleasant and fun fake classical and pop standards. In order to make sense in 2013, it needed to be as gaudy and pretty as Liberace himself. And not this dead end soaper.
Musically: the superimposing of Michael Douglas head on another pianist is Hollywood magic of the first order and it looks as though he is really playing. The music is fun but I was never much of a Liberace fan.
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