Behind the Candelabra Screen 25 articles

Behind the Candelabra

2013

Behind the Candelabra Poster
  • My big problem, I think, is that the two major narrative arcs this sees through--the "young lover eventually replaced" and the "high roller succumbing to a drug addiction" stuff--both feel incredibly played out and predictable, not only because they are done to death in nearly every fame-related biopic but because they've been done so well in particularly instances, e.g. Boogie Nights.

  • The subtle sense of subversion that lifts generic material beyond mundane, journeyman hokum is just not there, and while this is certainly a higher class of cinematic biography, it's still just does its job of hitting all the cosy beats we expect in this type of material.

  • Director Steven Soderbergh exits this chapter of his career on a fairly restrained note, letting his two lead actors and production designer Howard Cummings do most of the work; the film furthers his recent obsession with bodies as transactions (it concludes with the negotiation of a financial settlement, essentially for services rendered) without appreciably deepening or expanding his ideas. This is solid work, but his decision to take a long sabbatical is probably for the best.

  • As Liberace blathers in the background about how actors should keep their (liberal) politics to themselves, the camera shifts its rack-focus gaze to Thorson quivering with rage in the foreground. The meta component is that Douglas is famously just as liberal as Damon (both also much-derided regulars on conservative comment boards), meaning the two characters are on the same page even as their characters are totally at odds. Such multi-tiered moments are rare...

  • [Soderbergh] reminds me of mid to late 60s Yoshishige Yoshida: exhibiting a desire to cut to a new angle for the sake of new spatial activation, visual refreshment. Soderbergh isn't nearly as striking a compositionalist as Yoshida, however, so the arbitrariness shines through all the more. Tonally, this produces a cool, cerebral aspect to most his pictures. This, actually, is for me one of the strongest characteristics of his work...

  • While the decline of the central relationship contributes to a loss of shape and momentum in Behind the Candelabra’s back half, the film is still one of Soderbergh’s most potent attempts to prove that a star-laden Hollywood drama can simultaneously boast artistic flair, adult complexity, and populist appeal.

  • Soderbergh deserves unambiguous credit here since, once again, his late work tackles one of the major problems of our times. How do bodies exist, and how are they conditioned, by late capital? In Liberace's case, he made himself a gargantuan spectacle, all feathers and fur, to distract not just from who he was underneath but what he was.

  • The real success of the tone that Soderbergh achieves here is that we’re able to laugh at the extremes of Liberace’s life without ignoring the sadder, less obvious elements of his personality. It’s both a romp and uncomfortably real.

  • Much of the film’s blithest humor is used to expose its subject’s deepest social and personal limitations, though its stance is more bemused than vindictive: as well as a touching and tough-minded love story, “Behind the Candelabra” is a sympathetic study of a man defiantly resisting his own significance. Its own causes, still politically hot a quarter-century after the man’s death, are subtly enfolded into its goggle-eyed celebrity spectacle.

  • Soderbergh's antiseptic touch turns out to be a perfect match for this queerest of real-life tales, the cool-headed complement that allows the story's knotty emotions to slowly crescendo to a stunning, shattering apex... I feel safe in saying that the final sequence of Behind the Candelabra, with its pointed and poignant conflation of devout spirituality and let's-put-on-a-show sentiment, is one of the most beautiful, most moving scenes Soderbergh has ever directed.

  • One of the movie’s strengths is that it makes transparent how much Liberace, whether at home or onstage – and much as avant-garde artists like Jack Smith did and drag queens still do – was performing homosexuality for what was an often hostile, even dangerous audience.

  • Soderbergh charts the course of this relationship—the ecstatic sex, the plateau of intimacy, the melodramatic fall from grace—with wit, economy, and a dose of irony a la Douglas Sirk. The camera plan is simple: graceful long dolly shots, locked-down close-ups for tête-à-têtes, and a bit of handheld jiggling when Scott loses it to booze, diet pills, and coke. The editing is pointed and often hilarious, as in the outrageously abrupt cut to Scott enthusiastically fucking Lee up the ass...

  • Instead of being a grotesque freak show, the film is both affectionately funny and finally surprisingly moving. It is, after all, about the need for love, loneliness and the distorting effects wrought on a relationship by fame, money and the inability to live one’s life openly.

  • Steven Soderbergh’s new film — and possibly his last — isn’t quite as crass. Like some of the director’s recent work, it’s detached and slyly intelligent, even as it subscribes to a tried-and-true genre structure.

  • Behind the Candelabra is great fun, and even though the production and costume design are heavy on mirrors, gilt furniture, and sequins, it stops short of being kitschy. Among other things, it's a meditation on the sadness of self-deception as a way of life.

  • This isn't a director in a holding pattern, Soderbergh is constantly looking for new ways of telling stories, new ways of using digital images to articulate characters' feelings or a film's mood. He's so exciting to watch right now, every time he makes a movie there are shots we've never seen before. I don't know if any other American filmmaker is more inventive right now with choosing where to place the camera, how to frame the image, how to use focus, etc.

  • The film works like memory, the early scenes passing by like the snippets one might recall years later of just how one got into that relationship that ended poorly, before the later scenes allow Scott’s first meetings with Liberace to have their full weight. And then, just as in memory, the film seems unable to look away from the true devastation... and the mind is left turning them over and over, wondering if there was ever anything worth preserving there in the first place.

  • Every scene seems carved from marble. A few play out in long takes, with few cuts, at times from medium distance. The tale’s elegant purposefulness suggests that Soderbergh and his screenwriter Richard LaGravanese (The Fisher King, Living out Loud) came into the project knowing what they wanted to say and how they would say it. There’s a solid, patient, confident quality to this movie that’s rarely seen in modern mainstream cinema.

  • Like mother and son, and, for that matter, Liberace and Scott, [Soderbergh's] relationship with entertainment is not one lacking for passion or dedication. Thematic kin to Clint Eastwood's terrific J. Edgar, Behind the Candelabra is powerful, funny, and emotionally rigorous, and though it might act as a fiery and forceful resignation, in conjunction with Side Effects, it also serves as an uncommonly heartfelt Dear John letter.

  • Playing the part of Scott Thorson, the innocent young stud whom Liberace seduces, reduces, and abandons, Matt Damon more than holds his own against the scene-devouring Douglas. Indeed, the two-hour movie comes perilously close to becoming a dull morality tale until love-sickness kicks in and Damon gets his performance going... “Behind the Candelabra” is an essentially serious movie, not least in its meditation on the uses of denial and the representation of camp.

  • As a love story goes, “Behind the Candelabra” is opaque; as a vision of a marriage-like relationship, it’s a sort of black box. What brings Liberace and Thorson together is no mystery, or, rather, it’s the ultimate mystery; what drives them apart is nothing unusual. What’s exciting about the film is the unfolding of the utterly ordinary under the guise of the extraordinary.

  • There are scenes, particularly during the breakup, that will be catnip for drag queens, but Soderbergh’s overriding perspective is neither arch nor cruel. The camerawork, peering from doorways down empty, opulent halls, captures the paradox of palatial kitsch, its blend of liberation and claustrophobia.

  • [Liberace] is a man who’s forced to sell himself in order to be himself, and who in the process of doing so gets caught up in a cycle in which that self is eventually evaporated, surrendered wholesale to a public that, upon his death, rips the shroud off the fantasy he’s been projecting.

  • This is Soderbergh at his finest. Along with feasting upon Liberace’s rococo mansion, in which there’s an ornate vase for every flat surface, you can appreciate the “retired” director’s expert camerawork and staging, e.g., the scene in which Scott’s predecessor (wearing white short-shorts) squats by the pool to warn him that he’s no less expendable, shot through the soon-to-be-ousted houseboy’s legs... It’s easily among the best mainstream films of the decade so far.

  • Steven Soderbergh claimed to have watched films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as inspiration for his underrated Bubble (2005), but Behind the Candelabra... strikes me as his most Fassbinderian movie. This blackly funny (and sometimes horrific) showbiz saga, about pianist-showman Liberace's unhealthy relationship with a much-younger man, echoes numerous works by the great German filmmaker.

More Links