Beyond the Glamour, the real story of Behind the Candelabra By David R. Walker The latest film by acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh, Behind the Candelabra which premiered in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera has been picked up for international release in Europe, the UK, Canada and here in South Africa. In America HBO Films, screened the dazzling tale of the famed musician Liberace and his torrid love affair with a much younger chauffeur Scott Thurson in the Emmy award winning biopic Behind the Candelabra. Unfortunately no major Hollywood studio would distribute Soderbergh’s Liberace glamourama film due to the controversial subject matter so Home Box Office films (HBO) bravely stepped in and distributed Behind the Candelabra internationally, whilst the film’s American Television debut in May this year excludes the film’s stars, Oscar winners Michael Douglas and Matt Damon from being nominated at the Academy Awards in 2014. So why was there so much controversy over distributing this film? Perhaps it’s the risqué gay sex scenes or the taboo subjects of AIDS, palimony and showbiz decadence which prevented Hollywood from granting the film a mainstream cinematic release.  Subjects that have never deterred HBO before. Behind the Candelabra has been released as a TV movie in America and recently won a slew of 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards including Best Actor: Michael Douglas, Best Director: Steven Soderbergh and also Outstanding TV Movie or Miniseries as well as eight other Creative Arts Emmy Awards including Best Costumes and Hairstyling. There are a couple things audiences need to bear in mind about Liberace. He was born in 1919 to Italian and Polish immigrant parents in the American Mid-Western state of Wisconsin and his real name was Władzio Valentino Liberace. Not only was Liberace a fabulous musician but he was also a devout Catholic, an extravagant materialist and but he remained deeply in the closet never publicly admitting his homosexuality, yet flaunting his flamboyant lifestyle. That lavish closet was filled with diamond encrusted furs the more cash Liberace earned as his musical career skyrocketed from the mid 1960’s to the hedonistic heydays of the 1980’s in the glamorous casinos of Las Vegas.  Liberace’s fame grew exponentially at a time in America when gay rights were still struggling to be liberated, never mind recognized. Despite the events of Stonewall in New York and the influential career of San Francisco slain politician Harvey Milk, Liberace’s closet remain tightly shut, even though from the outside it dazzled in the Nevada sun as his shows as a virtuoso pianist redefined the contemporary Vegas extravaganzas, as the bejewelled performer defiantly clung to the mantra that nothing succeeds like excess.  In 1977, Liberace hired 17 year old, Scott Thurson to be his personal chauffeur and live in companion. There was a 41 year age difference between Liberace and the gorgeous Thurson who assisted the pianist with his extravagant shows often driving a gold Rolls Royce onto a Vegas stage while the couple indulged in an even more lavish drug-fuelled, promiscuous and materialistic lifestyle. Thurson and Liberace remained in a 5 year semi-contractual relationship, in which the entire time Liberace insisted that the young man was employed merely just as a gorgeous chauffeur. In 1982 Thurson sued the hugely affluent Liberace in a palimony lawsuit for $113 million dollars. The lawsuit gained unwanted publicity for Liberace which dragged on for four years and the famous musician eventually settled with Thorson out of court for a mere $75 000 in 1986 at the height of the AIDS pandemic which was ravaging the showbiz capitals of America from Vegas to New York. A year later in 1987 Liberace died in Palm Springs, California from an AIDS related illness. Soderbergh’s controversial and explicit cinematic tale of this love affair and subsequent breakup of Liberace and Thurson is based upon Thurson’s own book of the same name. So beyond all the glamour, Behind the Candelabra explores a tale of deception, drugs and decadence and promises to be essential viewing for all Pink Cinema goers and definitely a film to add to one’s must have DVD collection, between classics like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Brokeback Mountain.
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Edition 006 - May 2015