Behind the Candelabra

BTC 2We’ve been trying out film nights at the request of some members.

We thought that both Liberace and Scott were damaged.

Before Elvis, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace: virtuoso pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. A name synonymous with showmanship, extravagance and candelabras, he was a world-renowned performer with a flair that endeared him to his audiences and created a loyal fan base spanning his 40-year career. Liberace lived lavishly and embraced a lifestyle of excess both on and off stage. In summer 1977, handsome young stranger Scott Thorson walked into his dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair. This film takes a behind-the-scenes look at their tempestuous relationship – from their first meeting backstage at the Las Vegas Hilton to their bitter and public break-up

It takes us from the couple’s ecstatic first meeting backstage in Las Vegas in 1976, right through to Scott having to be ejected, with zero dignity, from his kept-man apartment some years later.

Scott confides in Liberace 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.

In 1980, Liberace’s mother, whom he always adored, dies and he holds a funeral. Scott is troubled by Liberace’s lack of grief over his mother’s death by claiming that he is “finally free.”

Thorson’s increasing drug abuse and Liberace’s interest in younger men, including dancer Cary James, creates a rift that ultimately destroys their relationship. When Liberace begins visiting pornographic peep shows and suggests that they each see other people, Thorson becomes upset. Thorson retains an attorney to seek his financial share of the property by suing Liberace for over $100,000,000 in palimony. As a result, Liberace ends their formal partnership and involves himself with his most recent, and much younger, “assistant”. In 1984, Thorson’s palimony lawsuit starts where he gives details about his five-year romance with the entertainer, while Liberace flatly denies any sexual relationship.

A little later, Thorson receives a phone call from Liberace telling him that he is very sick with what is later revealed to be AIDS and that he would like Thorson to visit him again. Thorson agrees and drives to Liberace’s retreat house in Palm Springs, where he and Liberace have one last, emotional conversation. Liberace dies a few months later in February 1987. Thorson 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.

Camp and kitsch, locked in a preposterously furnished palace-cum-prison which is like an anti-gravity capsule where they float around in their own neuroses and dependencies. The fat gold rings he wears around almost every finger form an interesting currency in Liberace’s dysfunctional world: he challenges the audience to admit he can play brilliantly despite this chunky jewellery; he loves giving rings to his conquests, who they hang on to them as a form of capital. One disgraced ex-lover is forced to hand his back.

The candelabra conceals nothing, in the literal sense – unlike Liberace’s wig. The great man doesn’t have secrets from us, the audience.

At the funeral Mass at the film’s end, the congregation’s response to the priest’s opening liturgical greeting “The Lord be with You” is ..”and with your spirit”. This is a well known change made recently. The funeral takes place in 1987 where the liturgical response would still have been, “And also with you.”

Liberace: [Final love song] Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, But for what I am when I’m with you I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, But for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, And for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, And for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening. I love you for helping me to construct of my life Not a tavern but a temple I love you because you have done so much to make me happy. You have done it without a word, without a touch, without a sign You have done it by just being yourself Perhaps after all, that is what love means And that is why I love you.

BTCLiberace: I have an eye for new and refreshing talent.

Scott Thorson: You have an eye for new and refreshing dick.

Scott Thorson: I’m bisexual.

Liberace: Well which half likes women? I haven’t met that half yet.

Liberace: I hate my life sometimes, I really do.

Scott Thorson: I can’t believe you’re so Catholic.

Liberace: Devout.

Liberace: What a story. It’s got everything but a fire at the orphanage.

Scott Thorson: [angrily eyeballing Cary James] There you are, you cock-sucking tenor fuck.

Scott Thorson: [on the phone] You scumbag piece of shit! Fairy! You fucking queen cocksucker! How dare you? How fucking dare you, Lee? I could kill you! I could fucking kill you!

Scott Thorson: Being somebody’s boyfriend, I didn’t picture my life like this. I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Liberace: You want to help animals? Pick up the dog shit.

Liberace: All of a sudden we’re sounding like a gay Lucy and Ricky. “Oh, Ricky, you wouldn’t fuck me up the ass if you loved me!”

Scott Thorson: Why am I the Lucy?

Liberace: Because I’m the bandleader with the nightclub act.

Liberace: [watching himself on TV] Oh my Christ, I look like my father! I look like my father in drag!

Liberace: I want to be everything to you, Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend.

Liberace: I love to give the people a good time.

Carlucci: Pig?

Scott Thorson: What?

Carlucci: Pig in a blanket, do you want a pig in a blanket?

Liberace: I don’t want to see you depressed. When you have a sad face, I get sad.

Liberace: [after Scott passes out at an adult video store] I’m not ready for apologies, OK?

Scott Thorson: Apology? Fuck you! You are a well known star! Are you out of your mind, going to a place like that? I mean, what if someone would have recognized you? What if they had gone to the press?

Liberace: When a London paper said I was gay, I took them to court, and I won that law suit. They retracted the story and they paid for it.

Scott Thorson: Only because they didn’t have a witness seeing you with a room full of dildos, with your dick hanging out of a glory hole! Are you out of your fucking mind?

Carlucci: [goes outside to deliver Scott some food] He made you a pesto panini.

Scott Thorson: Oh. Did you, uh… did you bring my Fresca? [Carlucci says nothing, looks disapprovingly at him] What?

Carlucci: [sighs] Here’s what’s gonna happen. You listening? You think you’re so hot and sexy with your hard ass and that bisexual bullshit. You know how many there have been? Bobby, Hans, Chase, oh and some country boy stripper who was so dumb, he wore his G-string backwards. He got rid of all of them, but I’m still here. And one day, Lee is gonna call Seymour and he’s gonna tell him to get rid of you.

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