Biopic re­veals tar­nish un­derneath gilded life

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

IT’S a small, en­ter­tain­ment-in­dus­try in­sider sort of dis­tinc­tion, but it needs to be made: Be­hind the Can­de­labra isn’t just a movie; it’s a show.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing a bi­o­graph­i­cal film about one of the world’s most fa­mous en­ter­tain­ers and his tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship with a much-younger lover, it’s also a kitschy and glamorous his­tor­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of the most lav­ish kind of show-busi­ness-fu­elled ex­cess. It is, in ev­ery sense, a per­for­mance piece.

Be­hind the Can­de­labra, which pre­mières Sun­day on HBO Canada, is a dizzy­ing and com­pletely cap­ti­vat­ing look in­side the lives of leg­endary show­man Lib­er­ace and his long­time paramour, Scott Thor­son. It’s a rather frank and oc­ca­sion­ally un­com­fort­able ex­plo­ration, and its suc­cess — de-

Star­ring Michael Dou­glas and Matt Da­mon Sun­day, check list­ings for time HBO Canada

out of five and af­ter their friend­ship in­ten­si­fies, Bobby in­vites him to ride along on a trip to Las Vegas. While there, they at­tend a show by Lib­er­ace at the Hil­ton Ho­tel, and Thor­son is blown away by what he sees.

Af­ter the show, Bobby takes his young charge back­stage to meet Lib­er­ace. There’s more than just mis­chief in the en­ter­tainer’s smile, much to the cha­grin of Lib­er­ace’s on­stage duet part­ner (and ap­par­ently headed-forthe-exit at-home com­pan­ion). Thor­son, taken by the mo­ment, is com­pletely un­aware he’s also just been given a fore­shad­ow­ing of his own fu­ture.

Lib­er­ace in­vites Thor­son to brunch the next day and, for all in­tents and pur­poses, the young vis­i­tor never leaves. Well, not for half a decade, any­way, when he’s re­placed by an­other young ar­rival in Lib­er­ace’s in­ner cir­cle.

What Dou­glas — who bril­liantly in­hab­its this over-the-top char­ac­ter with­out ever laps­ing into par­ody — and Da­mon ac­com­plish over the next 90 min­utes is quite re­mark­able; in a movie that’s over­flow­ing with cos­tumes and dec­o­ra­tions and jewelry and sparkly, rhine­stone-en­crusted ev­ery­thing, they keep view­ers’ at­ten­tion riv­eted on a com­plex and quickly trou­bled re­la­tion­ship filled with — at var­i­ous stages — gen­uine love, crip­pling jeal­ousy, in­tense van­ity and bit­ter be­tray­als.

It’s also a re­la­tion­ship that was, by ne­ces­sity, car­ried out in se­cret, as Lib­er­ace stead­fastly main­tained the pub­lic pos­ture — out of fear the truth would ruin his ca­reer — of a straight man who sim­ply hadn’t ever met the right girl.

The pair­ing of Lib­er­ace and Thor­son is shown, at its out­set, as filled with gen­uine mu­tual af­fec­tion (and plenty of frankly de­picted man-on-man in­ti­macy), but later on, as Thor­son starts to dab­ble in drugs and Lib­er­ace be­comes more pos­ses­sive and de­mand­ing (in­clud­ing force­ful re­quests that his lover sub­mit to facial re­con­struc­tion surg­eries to make him look more like a younger Lib­er­ace), things un­ravel in a man­ner that is quite mean-spir­ited and ugly.

As with any well-ren­dered on­screen re­la­tion­ship, the dis­so­lu­tion of this one is not easy to watch.

There are, how­ever, also sev­eral campy mo­ments and comedic asides, con­trib­uted mostly by a ca­pa­ble ros­ter of co-stars led by Dan Aykroyd as Lib­er­ace’s man­ager, Sey­mour Heller; Rob Lowe as the ag­ing pi­anist’s per­ma­s­toned plas­tic sur­geon, Dr. Jack Startz; and Deb­bie Reynolds as his beloved mother, Frances Lib­er­ace. But over­all, Be­hind the Can­de­labra is a se­ri­ous, thoughtful adap­ta­tion of Thor­son’s like-ti­tled book, which was pub­lished a year af­ter Lib­er­ace’s death in 1987.

There’s plenty of glitz in this film to catch your eye and take your breath away, but af­ter the cred­its roll, the only two things you’ll re­mem­ber are the stel­lar per­for­mances of Be­hind the Can­de­labra’s fear­less stars.

HBO

Michael Dou­glas, left, as Lib­er­ace, and Matt Da­mon as his long­time com­pan­ion Scott Thor­son.

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