Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra Information

Behind the Candelabra is a 2013 American drama film directed by Steven Soderbergh about the last ten years in the life of pianist Liberace and the secret affair he had with Scott Thorson, based on Thorson's memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace (1988). It premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2013 and competed for the Palme d'Or. It aired on HBO on May 26, 2013 and was given a cinematic release in the United Kingdom on June 7, 2013. The film received general acclaim from television critics, mostly praising Douglas' and Damon's performances.


In 1977, 17-year-old Scott Thorson, who works as an animal trainer for movies, meets Bob Black, a Hollywood producer, in a bar. At Black's urging, he leaves his adopted home in search of better-paying work. Black introduces Thorson to Liberace, who takes an immediate liking to the handsome younger man. Liberace invites the two backstage and then to his luxurious home. Thorson observes that one of Liberace's beloved dogs is suffering from a temporary form of blindness, and with his veterinary assistant background, informs the famous pianist that he knows how to cure the condition. After treating the dog, Thorson becomes Liberace's "assistant" at the performer's request.

Scott moves in with Liberace and becomes his lover. At this point Scott says that he is bisexual because he is also attracted to women. Liberace is sympathetic, informing him that he wanted and tried to love women, but was exclusively attracted to men. He relates a story of a "divine healing" in which a "messenger" informed him that God still loved him.

It gradually becomes clear that Liberace is trying to mold Scott into a younger version of himself; he requests his plastic surgeon Dr. Startz to transform Scott's face to more closely resemble his own and makes an unsuccessful attempt to formally adopt him. When Liberace begins visiting pornographic theaters and suggests they see other people, Scott becomes upset. Meanwhile, Scott's drug abuse and Liberace's promiscuity create a rift that ultimately destroys their relationship: Scott retains an attorney to seek his financial share of the property, and Liberace ends their formal partnership and involves himself with his most recent "assistant".

Not long thereafter, Scott receives a phone call from Liberace telling him that he is very sick with what is later revealed to be AIDS, and would like Scott to visit him again. Scott agrees, and he and Liberace have one last, emotional deathbed conversation before Liberace dies in February 1987. Scott attends Liberace's funeral, in which he imagines seeing Liberace performing one last time with his traditional flamboyance, before being lifted to heaven with a stage harness.



Director Steven Soderbergh first spoke with Michael Douglas about the idea of doing a Liberace film during the production of Traffic (2000), but had trouble figuring out an angle for it that would differentiate it from a traditional biopic. In the summer of 2008, Soderbergh contacted screenwriter Richard LaGravenese with the idea of adapting Scott Thorson's memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace. In September 2008, the project was officially announced with Matt Damon close to signing on to play Thorson and Douglas in talks to portray Liberace.

The following year, Douglas officially signed on to play Liberace alongside Damon. The film spent several years in development while Soderbergh had difficulty securing funding with Hollywood studios saying it was "too gay". During this time, Douglas and Damon remained adamant that they would appear in the film despite its lengthy development. Ultimately, the film was picked up by HBO Films and shot on a budget of $23 million over thirty days in 2012.

While promoting the film, Soderbergh went on to explain that this will be his last directorial effort for the time being. It is also the last film to feature a musical score by composer Marvin Hamlisch, who died on August 6, 2012.


Critical response

The film garnered general acclaim from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 93% based on reviews from 75 film critics with an average score of 8.3 out of 10. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 82 based on 30 reviews.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 4/5 stars, saying "As a black comedy, and as a portrait of celebrity loneliness, Behind the Candelabra is very stylish and effective, and Damon and Douglas give supremely entertaining performances."


The film shown for the first time on American television on May 26, 2013 was watched by 2.4 million US viewers and a further 1.1 million tuned in to watch the repeat immediately after, bringing the shows viewing to 3.5 million in total. When the film debuted on HBO, it achieved the highest ratings for a TV film since 2004.


At the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Baby Boy (a dog that appeared in the film as one of Liberace's pet poodles), won the Palm Dog Award. This is not an official part of the festival but takes place at the same time. Behind the Candelabra won the TCA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials. The film has also received 15 Primetime Emmy Award nominations including nominations for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Damon and Douglas. Winners will be announced on September 22, 2013.

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