Monday, October 5, 2015

Behind the Candelabra (2013)

As much as I enjoyed this film when it premiered on HBO, I nearly went insane trying to figure out what had drawn Steven Soderbergh to this material. By all accounts he'd been planning this one since at least the late 90's when he floated the idea to Michael Douglas on set while they were making Traffic. What was it that kept such a simple story (that we all know the beats to) in his head for so long? While only Soderbergh can say for certain, I think I finally figured it out.

From the first actual Liberace scene it hit me. He's up there on stage doing this very simple boogie-woogie number that I'm certain even I could learn...and then he starts upping the tempo. He starts augmenting it with all these little flourishes. In the next scene he tells a story about playing piano in a saloon back in Milwaukee where the audience asks him to play a hit parade song called "Three Little Fishes". Well rather than simply playing the song everyone knew by heart and in the style to which they were accustomed, Liberace opted to do it in the style of Strauss.

And that is what I think drew Soderbergh to this project: The chance to take a story that is the cinematic equivalent of a "standard" and to drench it in gaudy style for style's sake. Why is the camera placed in a certain spot? Because it makes the scene more interesting to look at! Everything is in the interest of giving the audience a good time. And it works! There is no deeper meaning. It's a celebration of surface that I'm sure even Liberace himself would have really admired.

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