Behind the Candelabra is a 2013 HBO biopic film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It details the tumultuous relationship between famed pianist Liberace (Douglas) and his much younger lover Scott Thorson (Damon). Their relationship starts out loving and caring, but eventually becomes strained due to Liberace's straying, his manipulative nature, and Thorson's drug use. The film is based on Scott Thorson's 1988 memoir Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace.
Originally meant as a theatrical release, the film ended up being made at HBO, apparently because the major studios thought it was "too gay" (it did, however, get released in cinemas internationally). It premiered at the Cannes film festival to great reviews, particularly for the performances from Douglas, Damon, and Rob Lowe. Douglas received an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance.
It was the final film to be scored by Marvin Hamlisch. It was also intended to be the last film from Steven Soderbergh prior to his retirement from filmmaking in 2013; he later returned in 2017 with Logan Lucky.
This movie provides examples of:
- Beauty Inversion: A lot of work was put to make the usually cute and glamorous Debbie Reynolds into the matronly Frances Liberace, in one of her memoirs, Debbie joked her Candlelabra appearance is what she'd look like in real life without her beauty regimen.
- Camp: It's impossible to do a movie about Liberace without this.
- Conspicuous Consumption: Hoo boy. Liberace loves to shop. And his houses are a showcase for his wealth.
- Covert Pervert: Liberace's public image is very clean cut. What he gets up to in private however...
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Both Liberace and Scott to varying degrees.
- Dodgy Toupee: Subverted. Scott is shocked a few weeks into the relationship when he catches Lee without his wig, who is very vain about being seen without it. When going in for plastic surgery (which requires removing the toupee) he tells Scott to make sure and sneak in and glue it to his head if he happens to die on the table.
- Dirty Old Man: Liberace is depicted as having a very high sex drive, a preference for young men, and a habit of visiting adult establishments.
- Everything's Better with Sparkles: Par for the course with Liberace's stage costumes.
- Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Both Scott and Liberace. When he runs low on cash, Scott ends up pawning most of his jewelry collection to fund his drug habit.
- Fantasy Sequence: While sitting in the church during Liberace's funeral, Scott imagines a far grander send-off, with Liberace playing "The Impossible Dream" and flying over the stage.
- Gay Conservative: Liberace.
- Gilligan Cut: The movie cuts from Liberace asking Scott for them to have an open relationship to him shouting at Scott because he believed he was seeing somebody else.
- Later, Scott insists repeatedly to his friend/drug dealer that he isn't going to call Liberace. Cut to Scott screaming insults over the phone, with a second cut showing Liberace holding the phone at arm's length
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Liberace releases a book detailing his "romances" with various women including an "engagement" to Sonya Henie.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: The enormous elaborate capes Liberace wore are depicted in all their glory.
- It's All About Me: Liberace, to the point where a portrait of him is used as a visual reference for Scott's plastic surgery.
- Liberace's mother, who comes off as extremely selfish and only cares about how rich and famous Lee is.
- Jitter Cam: Used in a scene where Scott is high and chatting with his drug dealer.
- MayDecember Romance: Liberace and Scott. Liberace is shown to like young lovers.
- My Beloved Smother: Lee's mother, who is always angling to try to move in with her son.
- Parental Favoritism: Mama Liberace isn't interested in having her other two children visit. It's the famous and talented Lee that she wants to see.
- Pet the Dog: Scott endears himself to Liberace by offering to get medicine for his elderly blind poodle named "Baby Boy".
- Pretty in Mink: The capes Liberace wears on stage. Scott is also given a number of fur coats to wear.
- Serial Spouse: Liberace has a long history of making all of his lovers, including Scott, go through brief flavor-of-the-week love affairs.
- Shrine to Self: Liberace's mansion, which has portraits, memorabilia and trinkets pertaining to the man everywhere.
- Skewed Priorities: Lee being more concerned about his wig being super-glued to his head, rather than his will or pending lawsuits, should he die during a face-lift.
- Straight Gay: Scott
- Weight Woe: Stacking on weight while enjoying the opulence of Liberace's mansion is what drives Scott into drug abuse.
- Transparent Closet: Liberace puts on a public show of heterosexuality (even after his death), but everybody close to him knows he is gay.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Courtesy of a very drunken Scott in the adult shop.