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Piano Playing Glitter Man
Behind the Candelabra (DVD)
Member Name: cyberem78
Behind the Candelabra (DVD)
Advantages: Brilliant acting. Great writing.
Film Only Review:
I'm in my mid thirties and I have a few childhood memories of seeing the flamboyant pianist Liberace performing on television. I must have been quite young at the time but Liberace's performance and spirit was something quite unforgettable. He was an amazingly talented musician who made his art unique by wowing audiences with his charming personality and his gratuitously showy costumes. Young or old, you couldn't fail to be impressed by him. I first heard about this 2013 Steven Soderbergh directed release about a year before it came out at the cinema. I was very much looking forward to seeing the movie after seeing Michael Douglas was cast as Liberace. I thought it sounded like a real challenge for the actor and one that I wasn't sure he'd be able to pull off. I was also doubly interested because I already admired the other major cast members involved, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula and Rob Lowe.
When the trailer for this movie came out I was a bit shocked by it. I had read an article saying that Soderbergh had trouble funding this because studios in Hollywood were referring to it as "too gay". After watching the trailer I thought I could somewhat understand this reaction. Initially I thought the level of sexual content seemed over the top and then I realised that I simply hadn't seen many mainstream or high profile movies where the sexual content was between a gay couple and where the gay scene had been studied so acutely. After seeing the movie I can state that the trailer actually exploits many sexy moments in much the same way blockbuster movies will show femme fatales in their bras slinking up to buff heroes. I think it's because I'm a straight woman and movies with gay characters as main players are a rarity that it at first seemed shocking or unusually explicit.
Michael Douglas plays Liberace. I have seen Douglas in many, many roles in my lifetime and I can honestly say that this is the best performance I've ever seen him give. There's no hint of Mr Hollywood here, no signs of the actor behind the character mask. I did wonder whether Douglas had the acting chops to be able to pull off this transformation, whether he could really embody that amazing spirit and zest of Liberace. He does! It's not just a caricature either, although the likeness and portrayal of voice and movement is scarily accurate. There was no point in the movie where I wasn't simply seeing Liberace and not Michael Douglas.
Matt Damon is also excellent as Liberace's partner, Scott. Damon plays a much younger character than his actual age at the beginning of the movie and I found this to be totally believable. Scott's journey into emotional turmoil is at the heart of the story. It's not a simple story though. There are no straightforward answers as to which character is in the wrong or right. It's a story that makes you think, makes you question human nature.
Other notable players in the movie include Scott Bakula and Rob Lowe. Bakula plays a pal of Scott's and it's an understated role but one which the actor lives and breathes as if it's a reality. Lowe has strong comedic charm in this film as he plays a plastic surgeon who has had a little too much work done himself. It's his best role in years. Debbie Reynolds also pops up although she is quite unrecognisable as Liberace's mother.
Another notable aspect of this movie is the staging and scenery. Everything from the costumes to the sets looks mind blowingly amazing! It really looks like the production team worked extremely hard to create an authentic mis-en-scene. I also liked the fact that CGI manages to create a brilliant illusion of the lead actor playing piano so well!
I enjoyed this movie very much. The acting and writing are phenomenal and there are moments of intense gritty drama interspaced with humour and joy. It's a movie, though, that left me feeling slightly uneasy because of the way Liberace was portrayed. This is only because the movie focuses on Liberace's relationships and the troubled partnership with Scott in particular, rather than on the effect of his work or his legacy. It does leave you questioning aspects of Liberace's personal life and I can't help but feel a bit sad that the man worked quite hard to guard his privacy and keep it all on stage just to have this movie come out years after his death.
I would definitely recommend seeing this movie although I don't think it will be to everyone's taste. Certainly if you are a Liberace fan or like me have these abstract memories of a piano playing glitter-man then it's a revealing story that will interest you. I also think fans of the actors involved should not give up the chance to see these performances as they are some of the best in the business. Quite rightly the film has just been nominated for 15 Emmy Awards including acting nominations for Douglas, Damon and Bakula. Otherwise if you like movies that are original and daring, or which have obviously been created by a professional, talented team of people then this is also for you. This is the type of movie that once seen is unforgettable.
Summary: A great movie.