Behind the Candelabra

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on May 29, 2013

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Dear Greg Fusak
Best Boy

Dear Greg,

Liberace was, by all accounts, a fabulous man. Fab-u-lous. A stage diva of the highest order; an incredibly gifted pianist, an absurdly lavish dresser, and a proudly flamboyant performer. For a period, he was also the world's highest paid entertainer. But like the subjects of all great American tragedies, that wasn't enough. He was missing something. A lover. A friend. A son. All of which he found in Scott Thornson - a simple Massachusetts's animal lover who became the "best boy" to the brightest lightshow in the Vegas.

You know what I'm talking about.

To the outside world, "best boy" is a pretty funny title. Not unlike the "best man" at a wedding, the description of "best" is actually second to one other. In your case, it's the second-in-command of the lighting department, the person in charge of coordinating people and schedules. A similar relationship, in some ways, that Scott has with Liberace. And for both of you, I imagine it's sometimes hard never being in the spotlight - especially when you're always so close to the stage.

Matt Damon, looking more boyish at age 42 than he ever has, plays the doe-eyed Scott who meets Liberace (a fab-u-lous Michael Douglas) backstage at a Vegas show in 1977. From there, an unconventional relationship blossoms outside the prying eyes of a deeply homophobic world. They're also contending with a major age difference, and a confusing professional relationship - Scott being bisexual and Liberace being sexually demanding. But the actors do a great job of stripping away the extravagance and focusing on the simple, relatable experience of people initially swooning over one another and then growing apart. Just with a lot more drugs and plastic surgery.

This is a film that Hollywood studios believed couldn't find a theatrical audience and was therefore produced for television by HBO, after premiering at Cannes. Such a grand stage seems befitting of the man who inspired the film, I'm sure you'd agree. Even if Steven Soderberg's staid direction never indulges in all of the lightshow around the candelabra the way I'm sure you would have liked. Instead he's more interested in the shadows and quiet nooks of the story.

Was it the best approach? Maybe not, but then again, that depends on your definition of best.



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