Steven Soderburgh’s gloriously wonderful biopic would have horrified his subject Mr Showmanship …. if he had still been alive. Liberace was the most flamboyantly outrageous camp superstar pianist ever, who in the 1950’s & 1960’s was the highest paid entertainer in the World, but who had unbelievably spent his entire life in the Closet. He and his multitudes of adoring fans put out this seemingly ridiculous farce that the king of kitsch was not a big Queen at all, and everyone just played along with it.
In 1976 Liberace met Scott Thorson, the latest in a long line of young men that he overwhelmed with expensive gifts in exchange for their company and sexual favors. Thorson was 17 at the time (although in this film based on Thorson’s own book, he is much older). 57 year old Liberace took a real shine to him and so Thorson went from toy boy to live-in lover in no time at all. It looked like the old man may have finally have found a life partner, but despite their sexual activity together, it seemed that he wanted the younger man to be more like a son than a husband, and demanded that Thorson undergo plastic surgery to be made to look exactly like him.
Thorson, now very spoilt and completely content with his new extravagant and indulgent lifestyle was looking quite corpulent and he soon took a liking to the diet ‘speed’ pills which made him slim, but also very mean spirited and difficult. So soon Liberace took a liking to a newer younger man to be his replacement
The going got rough, Thorson once treated as Liberace’s equal and heir was thrown out with just the clothes on his back (and the odd fur coat), so in 1982 he fired off a lawsuit for Palimony for $113 million but ended up settling for a mere $75000.
Soderburgh captures the man and his era so totally perfectly. This larger than life ostentatious and quite preposterous character with his voracious appetite for anything and everything ‘shiny’ and new, was rather brilliantly portrayed by Michael Douglas who imbued his performance with just the right amount of creepiness. Whether Matt Damon was too old for the part was questionable but he was the consummate foil for Douglas and the chemistry between the two star actors was completely believable.
In fact the whole movie had the benefit of some excellent casting choices : Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s pushy overbearing mother, the most scary looking Rob Lowe as the Plastic Surgeon who had evidently been practizing on his own face, Dan Ackroyd as the Manager, and I failed to recognize Cheyenne Jackson who played one of Liberace’s earlier proteges.
The movie was wonderfully camp and great fun as a homage to the man who put kitsch on the map should be. It also had its darker sides covering the moments it appeared that the Great Man may even had a conscience, and of course the great sadness of his death scene and the scandalous way that the Authorities who also were compliant with Liberace’s closeted status during his lifetime, now took to unnecessary invading his privacy.
Roger Ebert hailed it as one of the best movies to come out of Cannes Film Festival last year, which may be a tad exaggerated, but it definitely deserves to be seen by the widest possible audience. I must confess that I am still having a great deal of trouble accepting the reality that the movie, with its high wattage star power, was considered ‘too gay’ to be played in movie theaters in 2013. (Thank you HBO for once again stepping up to the plate!) I’m equally shocked that the respected Huffington Post should join in the media clamor from other more spurious Press and devote a whole column to the bravery of Mr Douglas and Mr Damon for choosing to play these roles. Brave? Ridiculous! They are choice parts that they were both so suited for and for which the Award Nomination gossip tweeting has not stopped since the Broadcast.