Quote of the day: LIBERACE

May 30, 2013

LIBERACE

There’s been a long, headache-inducing debate about the question of straight male actors “playing gay”—whether it’ll ruin careers, whether audiences will find the actor hot, and on and on. It’s a nonsense issue that social progress has begun to render irrelevant, and Michael Douglas’s spectacular performance as Liberace demonstrates a rarely discussed benefit. Freed from his trademark macho sulk, Douglas gains all sorts of unexpected charisma—he’s genuinely funny and surprisingly sexy, even with his toupee off, looking like an unshelled tortoise. His eyes lit with amused intelligence, Douglas’s Liberace is your classic “bossy bottom,” a gleeful narcissist who treats his hangers-on as a mirror (sometimes literally: he pressures Scott [Thorson, his boyfriend] to get plastic surgery to look like a younger version of him). And yet the man’s a charmer. He’s playful, even when he’s selling the world a line. In bed, the two have loving, affectionate exchanges, candid about their histories. Liberace jokes with Scott about the rumors—ones he encourages, of course—that he’s engaged to the Olympic champion Sonja Henie. “As if I would marry an ice skater,” he scoffs. “Please. I mean, those thighs!”

behind-the-candelabra-hbo

The movie is frank, and often very funny, about Liberace’s sexual appetites, which he pursued without seeing any contradiction between them and his devout Catholicism. He has a penis implant, likes porn, and late in their relationship he pressures Scott to take risks that seem crazy for a closeted star, like sneaking into a sex store in ankle-length matching furs. When the camera captures Liberace peeking over a booth with a grin, the movie doesn’t pathologize his good time—from one perspective, he’s a sex addict; from another, a madcap adventurer. During an argument about what Scott will and won’t do in bed, Liberace does a hilariously profane imitation of the couple as a gay Ricky and Lucy. “Why am I the Lucy?” Scott complains. “Because I’m the bandleader,” Liberace explains, with impeccable logic. “With the night-club act.

— Emily Nussbaum, reviewing Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra for The New Yorker

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