Saturday, June 1, 2013

Behind the Candelabra is an Impressive feat of Honesty in Representing Liberace and Scott, and the Development

Behind the Candelabra (4 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Contagion)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The Bridges of Madison County)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, and Scott Bakula

On a yearly basis HBO rolls out a film, which is a landmark event not only for the network, but makes an impact on the landscape of television.  From Angels in America to Band of Brothers, Recount, Mildred Pierce, and last year's film Game Change.  These are only a few television films, which have changed the perception of television film concept.  In the past many television movie/miniseries were a little hooky, and melodramatic.  The films/miniseries listed are some of the best television of all time.  Behind the Candelabra, competed at the Cannes Film Festival.  HBO has once again pushed the boundaries and made a great film.

Candelabra focuses on not just Liberace (Michael Douglas), but two men, the other being his male lover/boyfriend/partner Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).  The film chronicles the six year relationship of these men through the ups and downs of the late 70s early 80s.  Candelabra is more than a biopic of these two men, but rather a tale in love, morality, and a journey as director Steven Soderbergh says "down the rabbit hole" into high priced fame and fortune.

Soderbergh is is the perfect director to take people "down the rabbit hole" he has knack for character driven stories, which do not hold anything back.  Most recently his films Contagion, Side Effects, and even Magic Mike do a great job exploring the nature of characters within their specific situations.  In this case you have two men, Liberace who has been deemed this massively talented entertainer, and has built an empire out of this in Las Vegas.  Then you have Scott who finds himself entranced by the man, and everything he has to offer. 

Part of the credit is due to screen writer LaGravenese.  LaGravenese interestingly enough had a very eclectic screen writing background ranging from The Fisher King to this year's Beautiful Creatures.  LaGravenese uses the book written by Scott Thorson which slants things against the man who tinkled the ivories.  As you see by the end of the film, and Scott is thrown out and given nothing for his time in sun, but this Soderbergh/ LaGravenese version explores the context of both men.  Liberace had a penchant for younger men (the real Scott was 18 when they met), and his fetishizing of youth comes across as manipulative, especially when he forces Scott to get plastic surgery to look more like him.  On the other hand Soderbergh and  LaGravenese explore the other side of the coin with Scotty.  Scotty never says "no" does not walk away even when loses things valuable to him from his past.  Scott is a representation of the materialistic younger boy who is transported to a world he had never experienced.

Part of the strength within the added context is the layered performances from Damon and Douglas.  Damon's Scott goes from the quiet young farm boy, the manipulative disco queen, with a snap.  Watching him lose himself as he is sucked into the world, while also becoming this other person is one of the most interesting character studies on film.  Few films have explored the birth of this gay materialism with such forthright frankness and honesty.  Damon had this characteristic while exploring Tom Ripley back in 1999, but his acting chops have grown, and this role proves he can dance with the big boys.

Douglas's Liberace is also an incredible accomplishment.  Douglas never takes things over the top, never mimics; he owns the role.  While I was more fascinated by Damon's role and his acting, Douglas clearly is a master at portraying the confidence, and vulnerability within Liberace.  Part of the strengths to the way this role is portrayed provide this indelible larger than life image.  Liberace was not only a man of talent, but adored by many; he had an image to live down, or up to, however you want to understand him.  Douglas gets lost in the role, and never lets you forget every moment of the characters joy and misery; he captures each action perfectly.

Recently Steven Soderbergh gave a speech about the downturn of film, and the way the human drama is no longer relevant the way it was in older films.  Soderbergh's speech has elements I agree with, and ones in which I disagree with.  Film/television etc have evolved (just look at the influence of Hulu, and Netflix).  People are consuming media in different formats.  Behind the Candelabra works on HBO, because of the willingness to provide freedom of expression, and not having the make the film more mainstream audience friendly to turn a profit.  Soderbergh's film will be remembered as great mainly because it was an impressive (well shot) feat of honesty that is an impressive character study.  Soderbergh has his own style, and it works so well with this film because its not a "gay film" but an character study, which helps you to have better understanding of people, and their era.

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