All that glitters IS gold
From his all-controlling vantage point behind the camera and in the cutting room, Steven Soderbergh is equipped to take audiences where he wants them to go.
In Behind the Candelabra, which charts the relationship between flamboyant entertainer Liberace (Douglas) who died of AIDS-related causes in 1987 and the much younger, foster-homed Thorson (Damon), there are a couple of very obvious ‘repeat scenes’. These take place in a Vegas dressing room and a hot tub, marking changes in the emotional temperature of a relationship that plays out in static, stylised settings.
As part of Soderbergh’s grand mise-enscène of Liberace’s dominance over Thorson, such constructs consolidate the dynamics of dependence that appear elsewhere as Thorson is molded into a mini-Liberace with plastic surgery and promises of emotional and material security. Douglas and Damon are weirdly easy to accept as nuanced incarnations of exploitation and insecurity in search of love (and sex) within the double standards set by a pre-AIDS lifestyle. In fact, it’s all very smooth, with plenty of overlap dialogue and sharp-focus honey-tinted camera work seguing into the sobriety of the relationship’s dissolution.
Soderbergh seems to have taken to heart Liberace’s dictum that “too much of a good thing is wonderful”. More raw emotionality might have made this slightly less wonderful, but a bit more real.
Behind the Candelabra | Directed by Steven Soderbergh (USA 2013) with Matt Damon, Michael Douglas. Starts October 3
Originally published in issue #120, October 2013.