Liberace: Behind the Music (1988)
Aired just one week after ABC’s authorized film, this CBS biopic of Liberace promised a franker depiction of the entertainer’s private life, yet it’s hardly explicit. Confining itself to lots of longing looks and hand holding, Liberace: Behind the Music shares many incidents with its more circumspect rival, including opening the film at Radio City Music Hall and conducting monologues in front of a mirror. However, where Andrew Robinson addressed his reflection only once, Victor Garber’s Liberace performs the routine ad nauseum.
Following a similar timeline, the film flashes back to the moment Liberace loses his virginity to a female singer. Soon a new character arrives on the scene, someone not featured in the previous biopic. Seymour Heller, Liberace's longtime agent, immediately recognizes the pianist’s direct connection with his audience and arranges for him to host his own television show. With his star on the rise, rumours begin to circulate about Liberace’s sexuality, and though he successfully sues the tabloids for libel, his popularity begins to wane. It plummets even further when Liberace’s lawyer convinces him to part ways with Heller. Never fear! After Liberace tearfully begs the agent to take him back, Heller oversees his client's resurgence as a Las Vegas icon.
Unsurprisingly, Heller is listed as this biopic’s ‘technical consultant’. Portrayed by Saul Rubinek, he is depicted as that rarity in showbusiness, an agent with a heart. In the lead role, Victor Garber gives a strangely subdued performance, even when he is supposedly at his most extravagant on-stage. Coupled with the filmmakers’ decision to edit Garber into long shots of actual concert footage, the film (unlike the ABC biopic) fails to illustrate Liberace’s connection with his audience.
Where this biopic does have the upper hand over the authorized version is its ability to honestly depict the entertainer’s battle with AIDS. Unlike Liberace, which confined the subject to an end credit, Liberace: Behind the Music spends its last fifteen minutes covering the issue. In a more accepting time over twenty years later, Víctor Garber confirmed that he too was gay.
as Joanne Rio
as Elvis Presley
Biopic depicts Liberace collapsing outside his dressing room after breathing in chemicals used to clean carpets. In reality, he collapsed during his performance and the chemicals responsible were used by the entertainer to clean his costumes.