I just didn’t like this film. It wasn’t anything to do with the gay relationship at all, I was enthralled with ‘Brokeback Mountain’ where two men fall in love, their relationship is dealt with sensitivity and I laughed and cried and genuinely cared about them. I didn’t laugh more than twice at Candelabra and even on his deathbed Liberace didn’t move me to tears. I just didn’t care, it left me cold; certainly it was lavish, the sets amazing and the costumes breath-taking but there was no atmosphere, no drama, no sentiment, it was false but then so was Liberace. It’s a 15 certificate but the language is very coarse and I would hesitate to recommend a young man to take his girl to see it on a first date!
The midweek press screening of ‘Behind the Candelabra’ drew only a few journalists and those I talked to liked this story of Liberace’s life as seen through the eyes and experiences of his live-in lover of six years, When Lee, as he’s called by his friends, is introduced to 18 year old Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) it’s love at first sight and before long, the young man who works with animals and wants to be a vet is living in the palatial home of the star. The showman, who is 58, draws him into his world of bling and the boy no longer has a life, it’s drugs and solitude, even his face is remodelled to suit Liberace who wanted the boy to become his look alike son. A genuinely funny performance from the half blind plastic surgeon played by Rob Lowe although it was all rather graphic, a face reconstruction is brutal stuff.
I would have thought this a fantasy if it wasn’t for the fact it’s a true story based on Scott Thorson’s book recounting the years he lived with Liberace when the entertainer was at the top of his profession proving truth is stranger than fiction.
One thing did fascinate me and prompted me to investigate further. Liberace was at one time the highest paid performer in show business and undoubtedly a supreme piano player and during the too few snatches of him in concert, Douglas’s fingers tinkled up and down the keys and by all accounts he was actually playing. Not so. This from the Las Vegas Sun:
“Special effects were used to digitally graft the actor’s head onto the body of Philip Fortenberry, a Juilliard-trained Liberace virtuoso who was the in-house entertainer at the (now closed) Liberace Museum in Las Vegas for years. Fortenberry was suggested for a hand double for Michael Douglas. ‘They asked me to take pictures of my hands and then take video of my hands at the piano, because Michael Douglas doesn’t play the piano. During filming, I would be seated at the piano, then they would film Michael Douglas doing a number, then me,’ Fortenberry said. ‘We would do a couple of different takes so they could take my head off my body and put his on. It was all sort of eerie, actually. I also learned that it wasn’t as easy to perform while wearing all of Liberace’s signature jewellery,’ he added. ‘These rings kept flopping around and clicking on the keys. Eventually they had to glue them onto my fingers.’”
However, `Behind the Candelabra’ ends in tears. Drugs, alcohol and frustration get the better of the young man, Aids gets the better of Liberace.
Probably this film will do well because of the hype and publicity surrounding it, makes you wonder why Douglas pronounced his theories on throat cancer when he did.
Review by Anne Hailes