Sep 22, 2013

Libber-Ace

The book “Behind the candelabra: My life with Liberace” appeared in 1988 and had a good title and a co-author. The movie-idea came to Steven Häagen-Dasz in 2000 during the production of his best movie, Traffic, which also uses Michael Douglas. It took Soderbergh (right, that’s the name), it took him so long because he couldn’t quite figure out “an angle that would differentiate it from a traditional biopic” (according to his own testimony (Wikipedia)). Well, he didn't, or hasn't. This is a traditional biopic with a very traditional story of a very young man being picked up by a very famous one. There is love of some kind (also sex, at one point 4 times per day); there are euphoria, disappointments, drugs, rock-n-roll --- no, actually not, there’s no rock-n-roll because the very famous man is an entertainment pianist from the lounge-lizard school of entertainment pianists --- but there is strife and separation, followed by animosity and reconciliation right before Lee (that’s apparently Liberace’s first name, I always wondered) is carried off by AIDS. AIDS's a kikker for this story, the pianist's HIV-induced death rounds out the plot nicely.

Liberace and Scott Thorson (Damon's character)

What can we say? There are worse movies. Matt Damon is cooly cast against type in the role of Scott Thorson, Liberace’s kept boy for seven years. Michael Douglas has apparently recovered from throat cancer (which he, according to his own diagnosis, contracted via oral sex). Critics laud the performance of both actors but I’m not so sure, Douglas is overdosing it and his fake camp worked on my nerves towards the end. Save for three or four lines, the dialogue is as predictable as the story. Why this, beats us, Soderbergh normally has the best dialogue in the business (just think of Ocean Eleven).

I was really impressed by the special effects, though, you can see Douglas playing very fast piano, see him not just from some oblique angle hiding your view of his hands as you would in cheap productions, no, you see his real digits running up and down the keys like crazed rodents chasing each other to death. Well, the budget was $23 million, which I think is quite a lot for an HBO production (the script was rejected by all major studios for being “too gay.”)

Behind the candelabra, right. Good title. Many candles shine upon many mink robes and much mittelmeer-kitsch in Liberace’s Las Vegas dig, including the surprisingly small matrimonial bedstead. The wigs worn by Douglas during the first part of the film look more natural than those worn during the second part, possibly because we learn mid-film of Liberace's baldness (never knew of his acomous condition; glad I’m wearing Brad Pitt’s hair at the moment). Damon’s real hair is blonder and longer than usual.

Why “Liberace,” I’ve wondered at least five times in my life, especially after it became easier to think the thought once I'd learned in 1985 that his name is pronounced along Italianate lines.

But that’s it, folks! That’s it, that’s the explanation! Controversial interior taste, campy voice and furry apparel are simply not enough when it comes to fame, you also need a euphonious name. Imagine that Lee-Be-Rhuu-Sjee would have been called Libber-Ace.

Why can’t we do this? Is Am-Percant not good enough?

Well, judge yourself: