There aren’t too many certainties in the world of showbiz, but I’d have to imagine that if you take two Oscar-winning performers in Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, add in an Oscar-winning Director like Steven Soderbergh and you wouldn’t have much trouble getting your movie picked up by a studio. I, of course, would be wrong. That’s exactly what happened with Behind the Candelabra until HBO saw it for what it was worth and decided to show it on the air. To its credit, the movie was given an actual theatrical release abroad but I find it somewhat shocking that the major studios would pass on such a high profile title because it was “too gay.” Granted, that wasn’t their official response, but having seen some of the crap that studios green light it’s just sickening that a movie about one of the greatest performers of the 20th century is still looked down upon due to the lifestyle portrayed. How far have we really come in the 25 years since Liberace died of AIDS that a movie studio won’t distribute a movie based on his life? No wonder he was afraid to come out of the closet. Enough of my commentary, let’s get on with the show!
We meet Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) in 1977. He’s an animal trainer for movies, but though a series of circumstances ends up at a concert in Las Vegas watching Liberace (Michael Douglas). Liberace takes an instant liking to him and it isn’t long before Scott is his new “pet” of sorts. The movie chronicles the relationship between Scott and Liberace (who allows him to call him “Lee”) over the next several years. Scott’s had a difficult life, bouncing from Foster Home to another but has finally found a kindred spirit in Liberace. Every one of Scott’s wishes is fulfilled – a new car, a new face and all the eccentricities that the lavish lifestyle of being Liberace’s “friend” can bring. But as time progresses, Scott gets hooked on drugs due in no small part to creepy Plastic Surgeon Dr. Jack Starz (Rob Lowe). As Scott’s world seems to spiral more and more downhill, Liberace tends to lose interest. And it’s not long after that he seeks another newer, younger partner to fulfill his desires.
I remember Liberace as being the “man with the rings and diamonds.” I was really too young to know what homosexuality was and even if I did, Liberace’s entourage keep a tight lid on his sexuality. You see, three decades ago it really wasn’t that P.C. to come out of the closet. Liberace was a performer and if a performer was openly gay, it could hurt the business. So he and countless others were forced to lead double lives to keep in good standing with the general (read: paying) public. Douglas and Damon both do fantastic jobs here as well as the supporting cast with Scott Bakula, Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe (who nearly steals the show in all of three scenes). No doubt the movie is intense. There are some pretty brutal sex scenes, lots of foul language and drugs galore. I can only think that HBO is laughing all the way to the bank (not like they need the money) as Behind the Candelabra racked up 15 Emmy nominations. For a peek into the life of a man that most of us never knew, the movie is well acted, written and directed and therefore no reason not to check this out.
Video: How’s it look?
The 1.78:1 AVC HD image is practically flawless and in a movie where you know there’s a lot of makeup, glitter and everything in between – that’s important. I have to admit that I was wondering how they could pull off making Matt Damon look like he was in his late teens (Damon is in his early 40’s) and Douglas to look like Liberace (Douglas is pushing 70) but they did do it. The transfer is razor sharp, the interior scenes are warm and colorful. I saw no evidence of artifacting, black levels are strong and consistent as well. This looks just as good as any $100 million Hollywood blockbuster that’s shown up on Blu-ray. A brilliant-looking transfer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Though mainly dialogue-driven, the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack does have a few moments. Granted there’s not a whole lot of music in the film (just as most sports movies don’t actually have a lot of sports in them), but what we hear does sound pretty darn good. I was more taken with the dialogue between Douglas and Damon. They don’t go for the over the top, “queeny” dialogue that you hear from entertainers on E! or Bravo, but a much more defined and distinguished vocal presence that seems to exhibit a bit more class. Surrounds are used sparingly, but do add a bit to a few scenes, though the front stage is used almost extensively for the majority of the movie. A good, solid effort here but not something that’ll wake the neighbors.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As critically-acclaimed as this film is, we only get one 15 minute “Making Of…” featurette with Douglas and Damon telling about their roles, kissing one another and the legacy of Liberace.