Sunday, February 02, 2014


It is difficult to not compare stuff.  I try (and fail and fail and fail) to take a movie as it IS, as an independent thing, a complete sentence. Comparing a movie to a book (or an amusement park ride) is as unfair as asking a kid why he can't be more like his older brother.  It does disservice to both.

I mention this because I know a little bit about Liberace.  I own a few of his albums, all the DVDs of his televison show, and have been to the now-closed Liberace Museum to hear bedazzled grandmas tell breathless stories about Lee "He Emerged From A Faberge Egg" Liberace.  I know about his Depression-era youth, his Italian father insisting that young Walter become a musician in spite of his mother's stoic Polish scepticism.   I have seen the early photographs of Lee looking like a giggly dimpled sausage in the 1950's

Wait, perhaps this photo is TOO silly...

Okay.  That's better
and have seen how he eventually transformed into everyone's favorite gay vampire uncle by the 1980's.

"I count von... VON piano!  Bwa ha ha!!"
And, in even more exciting news, I know that the Liberace Foundation has signed a deal with the good people who manage Neonoplis in downtown Las Vegas and expect to have a small museum open by next year.

Basically I'm saying that I am one of the handful of people under the age of 85 who knows anything about the man.  (Those people who have heard of him are probably my friends.)  I'm not proud of this.  He was not an exemplary person.  He didn't save lives or change the world or even make very good music.  (Really, he didn't make very good music at all.)   And if you ever even hinted he was a homosexual he would sue the pants off of you. (Like, in a bad way.)

"I don't know what we're doing but whatever it is, it's totally NOT gay!"
But in spite of his lazy musicianship and they way he called for his manager to bring him fresh young men the way Nero called for grapes, I am still fond of Liberace.  I like him for the same reason I like Elvis -

You know I HAD to include this photo
both of them always seem to know it's all a big joke.   Elvis would get the giggles during his own shows.  Liberace, when he was prancing around in feathered capes or being driven on stage in a mirrored car never took it seriously.

Liberace = not serious.  Really, one can't be when wearing clown shoes.
In fact Lee was exceptional in the way he not only tolerated fan interaction but encouraged it.   After a show he wouldn't run and hide in his dressing room like a normal performer.  He would invite the audience up to say hello, touch his car, his clothes, give him hugs.  He was poor boy made good and he wanted everyone to see his cool stuff.  Did you want a better look at his upside-down monkey fur cape?  Well, come on up!  He might give you an impromptu piano lesson on stage in front of the audience at the same time.

If you asked nicely, I'm certain he would have let you join him in the tub as well.
His life was a giant sparkley crystal chandellier of lies but one look at his laughing toddler face makes it all not seem so bad.

All of this made BEHIND THE CANDELABRA and interesting experience to watch.  (Please Note:  This movie has bare bottoms and swears and graphic images of facial reconstruction surgery.  Do not watch if you are allergic to any of those things because it will make you sad.)   It was tricky to not point to stuff and say "I know that story!  I know that car!  I know that piano!"  It was also twisty watching it because Scott Thorson, the man the movie is about, is now in prison and I knew I was seeing a part of his past and maybe WHY he ended up in prison.

Basically I totally failed to disconned this movie from real life.

Exactly none of you are surprised.
So, instead, how about I just tell you about the cool bits and we all move on, huh?  Let's start with

Debbie Reynolds

Yes Debbie knew Lee in Vegas and yes she is an exciting old star to have attached to this project.   What is FAR more important is how utterly compelling she was in her ten minutes of air time.  I have never seen Debbie not smiling, not cute, not blonde and apple-cheeked and girl-next-door.   In this film she is stern and unsmiling and utterly, stunningly beautiful.  I know she did not live her entire life to play Francis Liberace but in a perfect world someone would film her puttering around a nursing home as this character.  That's a movie that I would watch once a week.  She was fantastic.

Costumes, Hair and Makeup

Ellen Mirojnick had only 8 weeks and a limited budget to costume a movie about a man who loved costumes.  Here is an interview with her about the process and Here is a link to the exciting announcement that she won an Emmy for her work on this film.

And here are the costumes.
Her work is utterly astonishing because I would have SWORN that Michael Douglas was wearing clothing from the museum collection.  I would have believed that every sleazy 70's shirt and bedazzled bathing suit and slick leisure suit was vintage and found at a garage sale.  I was also wrong.  EVERY stich of clothing was custom made and brand-new and even the 70's prints were custom printed for this production.  It is a mind-blowing amount of work.   Let me show you a comparison.

On the left is Liberace in a cape so crusted with beads and crystals and embroidery that 200 grandmas went blind making it.   On the right is the outfit they made for Michael Douglas which echos the original so well that I didn't notice it wasn't the same.

Also, hair and make up were stunning.   Make up managed to give us an accurate look into what bad 1970s plastic surgery could be

and transformed Matt's real face

into the direct-silicone-injected Liberace-look-alike nightmare it became.

So that's amazing.

Anyway, those were the awesome things about this movie.   Matt Damon was good, the music was good, and the filmwork was evocative and cool.  Michael Douglas was, well,

I think his acting was as sloppy as Liberace's playing.  Poetic justice and the kind of joke Lee would have loved.

The Ascention of Lee