Monday, August 5, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra
seen @ Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center @ Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, NY

So earlier this year Steven Soderbergh got in front of a microphone and said a bunch of things about what's wrong with modern moviemaking. He's a successful director, he's been in the game a long time and he's made movies both with and without the studios. Personally, I haven't been as interested in his output in recent years (one can only see so many movies), but I respect his knowledge about the industry and I have no doubt that he spoke from a position of authority. 

Much of what he said is not news to anyone who pays attention to what goes on in Hollywood these days: studios prefer to play it safe regarding story content in order to appeal to a wider, international audience; one can't always rely on test screenings to determine success; there's less of an effort to make long-term investments in young talent; and more indie movies are competing for a smaller slice of the box-office pie.

At one point he briefly made a reference to Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace biopic that played on HBO because he couldn't get a theatrical release for it. He explained part of the reason why from a economic perspective:
...Point of entry for a mainstream, wide-release movie: $30 million. That's where you start. Now you add another 30 for overseas. Now you've got to remember, the exhibitors pay half of the gross, so to make that 60 back you need to gross 120. So you don't even know what your movie is yet, and you're already looking at 120. That ended up being part of the reason why the Liberace movie didn't happen at a studio. We only needed $5 million from a domestic partner, but when you add the cost of putting a movie out, now you've got to gross $75 million to get that 35 back, and the feeling amongst the studios was that this material was too "special" to gross $70 million. So the obstacle here isn't just that special subject matter, but that nobody has figured out how to reduce the cost of putting a movie out.
And by "too special," he means too gay.

I'll admit it: while I am 100% behind gay rights, be it in marriage or anything else, my mind could be a little bit more open when it comes to the everyday reality of gay life. It was a shock to see Matt Damon reaming Michael Douglas in this movie (it wasn't explicit, of course, but the way it was shot still made it pretty damn obvious). Gay sex is not a sight I'm familiar with. Yeah, we used to laugh and make jokes about gay porn when I worked in video retail, and once in a blue moon, late at night, we'd even put a tape on for a minute or two when the boss was long gone, but that's not quite the same thing. 

In Candelabra, it's in the context of two men who genuinely love each other, and I suspect that may be something that gets lost whenever a film about gay people comes up: some only see the sex act and not the love. Like many people, I had been conditioned to think that homosexual love was unnatural, and while I now know otherwise, it's still gonna take time to overcome that mentality.

The extraordinary nature of this film, however, enabled me to see the love these two men had for each other. I was jealous! I wish I had a love like that. Yeah, Liberace got all possessive and started fooling around with other dudes later on and that wasn't cool; and Scott Thorson let himself be molded in Liberace's image, and that was just bizarre, but it was clear that there was something deep between the two of them, if only for a little while. 

Besides, I understand what it means to let yourself be manipulated into doing unusual things by someone if it means getting to be with them, to love them. I understand giving so much of yourself to someone to a degree that may not be entirely healthy. I don't think one needs to be gay to get something like that, and that's what ultimately matters, because gay love is not that different than straight love where it really counts. The Supreme Court finally realized that, and more and more Americans are realizing it too.

I saw Candelabra at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This was the first time I had been there. They're currently showing recent HBO movies for free throughout the month, and this was the first one in the series. Hadda wait on a long line for them to give out free tickets. This is a classy joint, which isn't surprising. I used to go to high school near Lincoln Center, and even though they've made some changes to the surrounding area since, I still see it the way I did back then.

The screening room was nice. Wooden floor and walls with long, cushioned benches arranged stadium style, and low-angled steps. The air-conditioning was aggressively employed. I didn't eat, but there was a small cafe on the opposite side of the lobby. The lobby itself had autographed posters of famous film directors from around the world. A British dude who was part of the FSLC staff introduced the film, talked about other exhibits. Instead of a canvas, there was a giant video screen on which Candelabra played. Audio was perfect. Nice place. I'd go back there.


  1. I've gotta see this. That's so cool that they showed it in a theater. I wish there would be an HBO series near me!

  2. It was pure luck that I even heard about this. I found out about it the night before.


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