I've been sold on Steven Soderbergh's Liberace movie Behind The Candelabra since the trailer for the HBO movie hit the web earlier this month. But if you need further convincing, the filmmaker drops some interesting details about the movie in a free-ranging discussion with his younger, gay brother Charley Soderbergh in Out magazine.
Behind the Candelabra, which premieres on HBO on May 26, tells the story of the flamboyant pianist's love affair with the much younger Scott Thorson. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon play the star-crossed lovers, and the trailer, which I've posted below, makes the movie look like an over-the-top romp through the back pages of Las Vegas-style opulence. But it's also reassuring to read Soderbergh tell his lookalike brother, who's an Atlanta-based hair stylist, that Behind The Candelabra is not going to be an empty exercise in camp:
"I wanted the movie to be very generous to Lee and Scott. I took them seriously, and I took the relationship seriously. It was a real relationship that was derailed because of some very odd external forces, some of them social and some professional. But there was an extended period where they were fat and happy. And if Lee hadn’t worked in a business where he thought that was a problem, or being gay was a problem, I think there would have been a very different outcome. It’s compelling to watch the two of them together. It’s sort of a Thelma & Louise thing—they decide to jump off the cliff together.
Another fascinating segment of the interview has the brothers Soderbergh discussing scenes from Behind The Candelabra in which Liberace and Thorson argue over porn and who will be "the top" and who will be "the bottom" in the bedroom. As Charley points out, the debates aren't that different from ones he's witnessed between straight couples.
Out: One of the most distinctive scenes, perhaps because it’s so rare to see it portrayed honestly in a movie, was the argument they have about who will be a top or a bottom.
SS: Whenever you’re in a sexual relationship that lasts long enough, at some point someone is going to hit on something that they want to do and the other person doesn’t want to do. That’s unfortunate, because it’s really hard to put that genie back in the bottle once it’s come out. If you’re lucky there’s some synchronicity that works out, and on the second Tuesday of every month, you get to do that. That’s absolutely a conversation straight couples have all the time. It doesn’t necessarily have the same significance, but oh, absolutely.
CS: I’ve been privy to conversations between a married male and female couple when one of them wants to try it and the other is balking. And the physical implications are the first thing they’re afraid of, and the social implications are the second thing. So we have two layers of fear. And I just stand there with a smile on my face, thinking, I can’t wait to see how you work this out.
SS: It’s one of my favorite scenes in the film because it is so blunt and so funny. “Why am I the Lucy in this relationship?”
CS: “Because I’m the bandleader and have the nightclub act.”
SS: That’s [screenwriter] Richard [LaGravenese] really hitting one out of the park. But it is fascinating, because you have Scott saying, “I’m OK with this, but I’m not OK with that.” And Lee doesn’t understand, because to him it seems like hypocrisy. I find that really true to life, in the sense that our feelings about sexuality aren’t necessarily linear. Everybody’s got some dot on a line with 10 points on it, and one is out of sync or in the wrong order. It’s a very complex, powerful area of our lives, and it creates really fascinating emotions and delusions and omissions. And I thought, What an interesting conversation, especially if Lee’s the one in the power position.
CS: Another part of that scene is, “I don’t know how you can watch that stuff,” referring to the porn on the TV. “How does he get it in his mouth?” I’ve talked to gay and straight couples who say, “I don’t know why you watch that stuff, it makes me feel unloved.” And the other one is like, “It’s no big deal!”
The brothers also engage in a lively discussion of their childhood that includes a substantial discussion of the cult film, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which they watched every Christmas. It's worth checking out. More on Behind The Candelabra: