Steven Soderbergh’s new HBO movie, Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, looks every bit as sequin-and-lace festooned, over-the-top glitzy as a movie about Liberace ought to be.
Michael Douglas’ impersonation of Liberace is dead-on, and Matt Damon, as Scott Thorson, Lee’s hunky, much younger boy toy, is late ’70s camp perfection, from the puffy, feathered hair to the itty bitty bikini.
The movie is based on a book of the same name written by the real Scott Thorson, documenting his stormy, 5-year relationship with Liberace. And a truly fucked-up relationship it was.
I like to remember Liberace with his outrageous outfits, the swirling capes, fur and feathers and lots of chunky rings, looking a bit like my grandmother, and joking with Kermit the Frog. I don’t like to imagine him as a seriously insane, delusional, old queen. Unfortunately, however, the latter image seems to be more accurate.
The movie’s trailer shows Liberace and Scott meeting for the first time in Las Vegas, when Scott was 18 and Lee 57. Lee takes an immediate shine to him, hires Scott as his “driver,” and has him fitted for a very fetching chauffeur/little (gay) drummer boy outfit complete with bedazzled cap.
Then, in a bit of light pillow talk, Lee makes one hell of a disturbing announcement to Scott.
“I want to be everything to you, Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend.”
Scott should have grabbed his pants and run, because Lee meant what he said literally, with one of the steps being to legally adopt Scott. In a particularly troubling clip, Scott discusses the proposed adoption on the telephone with his mother, who quite reasonably asks:
“Why would a grown man want to adopt another grown man?”
To which, Scott replies:
“So that we can be family.”
It’s pretty fucking creepy, but does manage to get even worse. Liberace decides that Scott should have plastic surgery in order to look like a younger version of him, and the trailer shows him offering a painting of himself to the plastic surgeon (played by Rob Lowe, looking like a stoned and fabulous David Cassidy) to model Scott’s new face upon.
“I want you to make Scott look like this.”
Keep in mind that this is a true story.
The movie looks fantastic overall. And … in addition to the insane storyline and the visual orgy necessarily associated with anything about Liberace … I have to admit that a tiny bit of the movie’s appeal is seeing two famous heterosexual actors, action stars no less, drinking champagne together in a romantic, candlelit bubble bath. Especially with those hair pieces.