Behind the Candelabra begins in 1977 with Scott Thornson (Matt Damon) meeting Bob Black (Scott Bakula) in a gay bar, where Black suggests some ideas for better-paying work for Scott than he currently has as an animal trainer. Black introduces Scott to Liberace, who is in town for a performance, and Liberace is immediately fond of Scott. After the show, they go back to Liberace’s home, where Scott recognizes a temporary form of blindness that one of Liberace’s dogs is suffering from, and offers to help cure it. Upon successful completion, Liberace has Scott become his full-time assistant.
The two soon become lovers, although Liberace starts to enact a strange desire to literally transform Scott into a younger version of himself, going so far as to call in a doctor to make surgical adjustments to Scott’s face so as to more closely resemble himself. Unable to leave, Scott turns to drugs to take out his frustrations with Liberace’s attempts at control.
In 1982, the two reach a breaking point thanks to both Liberace’s penchant for other young men and Scott’s increasing drug use. Liberace suggests that they end their relationship, after which Scott becomes upset and seeks to file a palimony lawsuit. At the trial’s hearing, Scott recounts the details of their five-year relationship, but Liberace denies every part of the story, and their contact is completely broken.
Just two years later, Scott receives a call from Liberace that he’s dying, with what turns out to be AIDS, and asks to see him one last time. The two come to terms of a sort, only a few months before Liberace finally perishes.
“Once your eyes adjust to the bedazzled opulence of Liberace’s life in ’70s and ’80s Las Vegas, Behind the Candelabra becomes a darkly moving and provocative look at two lonely men who briefly found something like love before the maelstrom of fame, money and drugs, all churning within the confines of the sexual closet, blew it apart.”
— Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times
“There’s a solid, patient, confident quality to this movie that’s rarely seen in modern mainstream cinema. It’s better than most American films playing in theaters, and better than most of HBO’s films, too.”
— Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Magazine (Vulture)
“Behind the Candelabra succeeds precisely because it doesn’t care much about health or what constitutes a good role model–it shows respect for a complicated marriage simply by making it real.”
— Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker
Did You Know?
Steven Soderbergh originally intended for Behind the Candelabra to be released theatrically, but resorted to HBO after Hollywood executives repeatedly iterated that the film was “too gay”. Robin Williams was also originally set to play the lead character, with Philip Kaufman as director. Additionally, Debbie Reynolds, who plays the part of Liberace’s mother, was a close friend of Liberace in real-life, and was excited to have the opportunity to use her unique knowledge of his mother’s unusual dialect. Review our Gay Themed Films Here