Weekend for me is all about relaxing. And eating. And reading. And watching movies. And, before my wardrobe collapsed Friday night because of too many hangers, shopping. And, lately, photo shooting (new post about this coming out tomorrow! Stay tuned!)!
Last weekend I had my usual pizza on Saturday, Agnes’ birthday party, brunch with my husband, grocery shopping, a red-velvet cupcake from Lollipop Bakery, a session at the hairdresser, a burgundy-red mani-pedi and a long Viber call with my mum about arrangements for my next trip in Italy.
But in this post I want to tell you more about an amazing movie I watched: Behind the Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. The movie (it premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival last May receiving general acclaim) is about the love story between Liberace, world-famous pianist and show-man, and his assistant, way younger than him, Scott Thorson. The inspiration for the story comes from Thorson’s memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, published in 1988 (if you are interested, you can buy the book here).
During the Seventies, Liberace became world-famous, earning two Emmy Awards and even two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Members of British royalty and numerous US Presidents enjoyed his company and performances. In the same period he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-paid pianist in the world despite (or maybe because of!) his stylised flourishes and his condensing of classical pieces leaving out what he called ‘all the boring parts’. Already in the Fifties, Liberace was also the first major entertainment star to wear flashy, lavish costumes and to present himself as effeminate and androgynous.
In the movie, the focus is on the secret relationship he had with Scott, his assistant and chauffeur. At the beginning, Scott assists to one of the star’s performances, is introduced to him and his environment, gets to visit the backstage and his luxurious villa and is fascinated by the extravagant lifestyle of the pianist, who is wearing plenty of jewellery, exotic caftans and gold slippers in his free time and amazing fur and sequins’ ensembles when on stage (also, he doesn’t play normal pianos, but golden-decorated ones!). I don’t think he would have agreed with the ‘less is more’ philosophy!
Scott is then hired as an assistant by Liberace, and very soon becomes his secret lover. Then he gradually complies to the new lifestyle, spending his time car and jewellery-shopping, sipping champagne in the Jacuzzi and eating strawberries served by a sexy butler in bed in the middle of the night. His style also evolves, and he is not wearing his jeans shirts he was used to when he was working as an animal trainer, but rather tight embroidered suits and jewel-encrusted speedos. In an interview to Ellen Mirojnick, costume designer for this movie, I read that Damon loved fitting, that he tried everything and he just enjoyed the process so much that it was like ‘Show me more, give me more’.
As the movie goes on, it becomes clear that Liberace is trying to mold Scott into a younger himself; with the help of his plastic surgeon Dr. Startz he transforms Scott’s face to more closely resemble his own.
Personally, I found the character of Dr. Startz very interesting. He is the plastic surgeon that introduces Scott to the use of drugs – it’s the Miami diet, he says. Thanks to an amazing (or ghoulish) makeup job, Rob Lowe’s face was transformed into one of the most terrifying doctors I have even seen on-screen (Dr. House is cute and funny compared to him!), and the way he wears his shirts – unbuttoned to convey just the right amount of sleaze – is perfectly matching his unctuous personality.
Scott’s transformation into Liberace’s puppet is complete when he is forced to drive a glittery Rolls Royce onstage wearing a light-blue chauffeur outfit with silver sequins’ embroidery. From this moment on Scott, angry, frustrated and under drugs, will start creating a rift that will ultimately destroy their relationship.
The look for one of the most interesting scenes of the movie – Liberace and Scott wearing the same white fur and white suit – was inspired by a photograph that does exist of the two of them, a black-and-white photograph where they look like twins, dressed virtually the same in white suits. Apparently, the director Steven Soderbergh loved the idea that they were twins on that particular night. The costumer did two matching three-piece suits, custom-made by Dennis Kim, the tailor of the production, and they had on matching fox coats as well. Liberace and Scott end up in a gay pornographic theatre that night, and Scott becomes very upset. Once back home, they have a furious discussion, and Liberace confesses he’s also being promiscuous towards younger men.
Then they break up, and Scott retains an attorney to seek his financial share of the property by suing Liberace for over $100 millions. As a consequence, Liberace ends their formal partnership and becomes involved with his most recent, and much younger, assistant.
A few years later, Scott receives a phone call from Liberace telling him that he is very sick (it will later be revealed it’s AIDS), and would like Scott to go and see him for the last time. Scott agrees, and he and Liberace have one last, emotional conversation. Liberace dies a few months later and Scott attends Liberace’s funeral, in which he imagines seeing Liberace performing one last time.
In the same interview I mentioned before, I read that the costume the artist is wearing in this last scene is actually a costume that Liberace actually did wear and that the costume designer saw it in a museum and felt it was very intimidating. It was inspired by an underwater theme: there were coral elements, oysters and waves and the costume itself was sequined and embroidered in seashells.
I loved this movie. And I loved the job the costume designer did to match every personality with the right style and to recreate the craziest ensembles Liberace (the real one!) used to wear. Ellen Mirojnick admitted that it took a lot of hard work and even more sequins to make Michael Douglas into Liberace and Matt Damon into his twink lover Scott Thorson. And it shows! When watching the movie, I felt like I was at a front row of a fashion show from the glittering Seventies!