Behind the Candelabra (2013)
“People only see what they want to see” Liberace assures his new lover, and Behind the Candelabra wants you to see Scott Thorson as a naïve young man who gets swept up in a romance with a much older celebrity. Not at all like the manipulative gold-digger portrayed in Liberace and Liberace: Behind the Music. Discerning the truth between tales told by an entertainer who hid his sexuality his entire life and a drug addict convicted of identity theft and burglary would be a fool’s errand. Best enjoy this film for what it is… one of the frankest (and funniest!) depictions of a same-sex relationship reviewed on this website.
Whilst accompanying “one of those San Francisco guys” to a Liberace show, Thorson is surprised to learn that the entertainer’s elderly fans have no idea that the object of their affection is gay. After a few knowing glances are exchanged backstage, Thorson takes up Liberace’s invitation to visit his home and the two soon become lovers. Assuming the role of secretary, he is showered with gifts, furnished with a home and becomes part of Liberace’s act. Over time however, Thorson realises that he has become captive in a gilded cage.
Upon its release, director Steven Soderbergh revealed Behind the Candelabra was rejected by many major studios for “being too gay”, yet the unflinching depiction of Liberace and Thorson’s coupling is one of the film's major strengths. Apart from Matt Damon taking Michael Douglas from behind and scenes of sweaty post-coital afterplay, there are numerous examples of the affection shared between the two, bookended by their bickering and eventual heartache. In short, a relationship arc portrayed in countless films it’s just that here, both lovers happen to be male.
There’s also the fun to be had when one of them is flamboyantly out there without being out. In his Emmy award winning role, Michael Douglas provides a camper version of Liberace when first glimpsed on stage but settles down away from the spotlight. Heading an all-star cast that also includes Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd and an unrecognisable Debbie Reynolds (in her last role), Douglas’ portrayal of an oversexed older man who is always on the prowl miraculously avoids caricature. Underneath all the glitz and glamour he delivers a living, breathing and ultimately tragic figure behind the candelabra.
The character of Billy Leatherwood is based on Vince Cardell.
Though biopic depicts Billy leaving Liberace’s mansion the same day that Scott Thorson moved in, he actually stayed for a further four months.
Liberace’s mother died in 1980. Biopic depicts her alive in 1981