Wednesday 12 June 2013


It's true that throughout this film I couldn't get out of my head that I was watching its two main stars performing their characters rather than seeing Liberace and Thorson on screen. But even so, I found it a highly entertaining experience, both Douglas and Damon giving their all  More's the pity, then, that they'll be denied their chances of Oscar nominations because of the film's not qualifying for such, due to its absence of an initial American theatrical release. However, I'd find it gratifying if Douglas, at least, manages to achieve a BAFTA nomination. He'd deserve it as I don't think he's been better - and probably the same goes for Damon too, notwithstanding the fact that at the start of the film he is playing a young man still in his teenage years.

The film ought to work even better for those who didn't know of Liberace, as Douglas' portrayal then wouldn't be encumbered by memories of witnessing the real man's act on screen.  But I think some of those of younger generations might only see the off-putting duplicity of this unique individual, whose closeted-life paranoia was hardly a shining advertisement for progressive gay politics.
L's reputation as a global superstar seems now to have been all but been expunged from memory, not only surely because of the manner of his demise during an infamous series of denials as to the true nature of his illness (I still clearly recall the publicity announcements of his loss of weight being due to a 'water-melon diet' -  this being still at a time when ignorance and scare-stories about AIDS were rife and precious fodder for the tabloids) but also because there is hardly anything of permanence that he has left behind, other than a few films of TV appearances. There is certainly nothing of lasting significance in the recording field.
In the U.K. he had just the one Top 20 'hit' - 'Unchained Melody' which reached the dizzy heights of number 20 itself for all of one single week in 1955!
In Mark Kermode's positive review of this film for the BBC he tells of a younger member of staff pronouncing the name 'Liberace' to rhyme with 'face'. So far have 'the mighty' fallen!

This film, beginning in 1977 at the start of his relationship with Thorson, takes the story up long after Liberace's popularity had peaked , which had probably been in the late 1950s. But even at a date as late as the start of the film he did still have a loyal fan-base (particularly of blue-rinse ladies) - and he did still possess big-name allure that few could compete with, right up there even with Sinatra himself.

The story is an interesting one. I haven't read the Thorson book on which the film is based but it's still fascinating. One knows there will be a 'car crash' in the relationship between the men but I didn't know at what point it would come and what particular event would trigger it, apart from guessing that it would be one of jealousy, justified or not.

Rob Lowe, as the unintentionally funny plastic surgeon, is remarkable. Good also to see Debbie Reynolds on screen again, if only twice briefly. (I didn't even think she was still with us!)

Although we get good sight of some of the man's outlandishly garish costumes it was a pity that we didn't see a like impression of the adulation in performance he got almost universally, all his performances here taking place in the one theatre, and all with a curiously muted audience, and a barely visible one at that. But, as indicated, the action takes place long after his own 'bubble' had burst so it may have been factually accurate. However, apart from a retinue of house staff and bodyguards, it still provided no illustration of his continued status as a 'living legend'.

One particular curiosity I noted. How was it that in the late 1970s and into the 80s he could not afford a colour TV? Even I could!

I feared I might have been disappointed by this film. I wasn't - and I mark it with a commendable......................7.5


  1. Debbie Reynolds is still going strong!
    Bless her

    As for the movie..on your recommendation I will go and see soon as it shows

    1. Highly recommended, J.G., whatever one thinks of the man.
      He was surely a one-off, even if some think he was that one too many. But the story itself would hold up well were it total fiction.

      Btw: I only knew it was Debbie Reynolds because I'd been forewarned by reviewers who hadn't realised it was her until the final credits. I too wouldn't have recognised her.

  2. I am in agreement with most of your thoughts on this film. However, I would change part of the first sentence to: ONE of its main stars performing his character rather than seeing Liberace. Douglas is too strong a personality and you see Douglas. Damon awed me. He convinced us that he is far younger than he is in real life. Then to go to the weight gain and then the plastic surgery. Well done, Matt!

    It's a pity that many of the younger people have no knowledge of Liberace. I wonder if he would have been such a star if he were starting his career in todays world. Probably not. That was a different generation who enjoyed "camp" and the over-the-top-performances.

    Thorson, just released from prison, gave an interview on television. One of his comments was that the movie was "right on the mark."

    1. Matt D. did play his part well as the callow, star-struck teenager, Paul, though (and I've said this more than once before) I've not been quite an admirer of his past acting talents as some are. But he was impressive in this - and brave too for what he put his body and face through.
      Yes, Douglas is what he is but I've never seen him so stretched as here - and I don't mean just his face. He deserves congratulations for pulling off a truly extraordinary performance.

      Liberace's huge presence in show-business history seems to have undergone a photoshop removal - and it's a real shame that so many younger than us have never heard of him. I doubt if any pianist could ever make it 'big' again - and certainly not without some huge gimmick to get him noticed.
      Actually I'm still amazed by how many don't even know about the 'Beatles'. I suppose it'll be Elvis next who is to be given a forced vanishing act. Even, in time, Michael Jackson, I wonder? But if so, I myself will be long gone by then.

      That's a very reassuring remark from Thorson, Makes me want to see the whole film again just bearing in mind what he's said.

  3. When I heard about this film Ray I was sure that I wouldn't want to see it as, talented as he was, Liberace was everything I didn't like - closeted (but understandable given the period), camp, selfish...
    But the production looks so good and the execution so perfectly done that I will go and see it.
    Thanks for the review.

    1. Do go, Craig. I'm pretty sure you'll find it good entertainment and won't regret having spent money. If you do feel that way - sue me, in the same way the L himself sued the newspaper.
      There's no doubt that, behind the mask, the man was a monster. But given the times of his popularity, that was the case with many of the big names, which we only found about later - Sinatra, of course, - even stories about Bing Crosby, of all people.
      It's only a slice from the last seven years of L's life, but it's an eventful one.
      Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

  4. Since Liberace is still the topic of the day, I'll add an interesting, but sad recollection that Scott divulged in his memoir.

    "A commemorative service held in Palm Springs two days after Lee died attracted fifteen hundred irreverent curiosity seekers, carloads of press, but few genuine mourners. In celebrity saturated Palm Springs only two stars-neighbor Kirk Douglas and actress Charlene Tilton-took the trouble to pay their last respects."

    He adds that the mourners, about twenty of them, were mostly on Liberace's payroll and gave the impression as grieving for Liberace was something to be ashamed of.

    Kirk Douglas is still alive and I wonder what thoughts came to his mind when he saw his son, Michael, playing Liberace?

    1. That really is interesting, Paul. Given the true cause of his death and his (and his manager's? - if he had one) repeated denials that his condition had anything to do with AIDS, right up to the end - followed by the ghoulish stories re his embalming and how his blood was disposed of, it's hardly any wonder that association with him would be deemed as tainting to any celebrity mourners present. As an international entertainer he was long past his 'sell-by' date by then anyway, and only his absolutely truest friends would have stood by him through death and beyond.
      I hadn't known that about Mr Douglas Snr and I'm happy that at least one big name had enough guts to show it when so many others saw the man as a liability and even a pariah. Yes, I wonder what Michael D. must have thought and if it had in any way influenced his decision to play the role.

      All this puts me in mind a bit of Rock Hudson's demise. Again, very few were able to express public support for him in those bleak AIDS-ignorant days (our tabloid press thought they had scooped the jackpot!) - only our doughty, faithful Doris Day (bless her!) made a show of public support. And, to his eternal shame, I have no reason to disbelieve reports that Ronald Regan, with whom Hudson and he had been lifelong buddies, not once rang him just to express concern or sympathy - no doubt on political advice too, but even so he could have stood up for doing the right thing too.

  5. We just got a cable company which allows us to see this.
    Liberace is fascinating to me; a complex character, indeed. Overall tragic as in the end no one wants to claim him, not even the gay community, who see him as a painful case.

    1. It's a must-see, Dr Spo.
      I think L is mainly 'complex' in terms of his two-facedness, and in that respect the word would have applied to many closeted gays in the entertainment business. But I get the feeling that some people of later than my own generation don't quite appreciate how calamitous such a revelation could have been - not just with a possible prison term to serve but absolutely certainly the entire collapse of one's career.

      It's no surprise that no one wants to claim him as a positive figure - though I bet many would love to emulate his act, if they had the resources to do it. Of course, he could in no sense be termed a 'pioneer of liberation'. However I'd prefer to remember him also as an indictment of the 'head-in-the-sand' times we lived in rather than dwelling on the dubious private aspects of his glitzy life.

  6. I wonder if this will ever get to Spain.

    1. I think it will, Mitch. My understanding is that it's getting a theatrical showing just about everywhere apart from the U.S.A. where, to their shame, the film powers-that-be ran scared of the subject matter. While it may not be quite as lavish enough to reflect the subject's lifestyle (some have said that it looks like a TV film) I do think it'd pack a bigger punch seeing it on the big screen - though, having said that, at least two of my followers praised it after seeing it on the HBO channel. But it really OUGHT to be seen in some way. It's unique!

  7. I confess I never really understand why L was so famous and had such a huge following. Part of the reason he is not better remembered is that the majority of his work was on stage and, later, television. He did not leave behind a vault full of recordings and films to keep his memory alive.

    Regarding the falsehoods around is death, Some friends and I went to the Liberace museum in Las Vegas a 3-4 years ago. The museum had fallen on hard times then and has since closed. One of the blue-rinse docents made a point of telling visitors that she was certain he died of lung cancer ("He was always a heavy smoker.") even as she stood in front of the display case that showed his obituary listing cause of death as 'complications of AIDS'

    btw - don't feel too badly about the award potential. The film does not qualify for Oscar consideration because it was made for television but I am sure it will be remembered with the hand out the Emmy nominations.

    1. I think that I CAN appreciate why L was such a phenomenon, H.K. He was a total one-off, unlike anyone else in entertainment before or since. Comparisons are made with Elton John but the later has never had the 'smarminess' which L. exuded, even through the TV screen, which simultaneously repelled and captivated. L was never less than fascinating the entire time.
      Of course if he'd been subject to the media intrusions of today it would be very unlikely he'd have lasted more than a few days at such a peak of popularity which, I remember, went on for years and years.

      Your story of lung cancer shouldn't have surprised me. There'll always be those in denial of anything they don't WANT to be true. How very sad - for them!

      I'm not moaning too much about Michael Douglas not qualifying for Oscar nomination. Apart from the Emmys which you mention he could also be up for a BAFTA which, I assume, is regarded as the biggest honour from outside America.

      Yes, there isn't much of a legacy that L left behind. He had to be seen performing 'live', even if only on TV. And it wasn't just in piano-playing. I remember him also singing and dancing in some of his acts, more in a 'good sport' fashion rather than as a genuine, talented 'all-rounder'.

      Btw: I've just had a thought. Wasn't the monster-sadist in Stephen King's 'Misery' a big Liberace fan? I may have got that wrong - but it's high time I re-read that great and thoroughly enjoyable novel again anyway.

    2. Follow up...the Emmy nominations were announced yesterday; 15 nominations for Behind the Candelabra including best lead actor nominations for Douglas & Damon; best supporting actor for Scott Bakula; best writing, directing and program of its type.

    3. Very good news, H.K. I'm pleased - most of all, to be honest, at seeing Douglas getting some significant acting recognition. Even if he doesn't get the ultimate prize it's still a noteworthy inclusion.
      This probably means it won't be overlooked when it comes to the next BAFTAs, but that's still 6 months away.
      Thanks very much for this update.