The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

This is Not a TV-movie

with 17 comments


Every time I see Behind the Candelabra mentioned as a “TV-movie” I think of it as an insult.

To me this label means that it’s a second rate movie. TV-films are the ones that went wrong, the ones that were judged not to be good enough to go up in a theatre, so someone decided to dump it on TV instead. They look cheap. Nobody talks about them. They don’t get proper reviews and they don’t get the most prestigious awards. They don’t count.

I know that things have changed over the last few years. The best writers write for TV nowadays and we get series such as Breaking Bad, which beats most of what we get to see in theatres. But when it comes to a stand-alone “TV-movies”, I remain suspicious. I always expect them to feel cheap. You probably know what I mean.

Behind the Candelabra carries this unfortunate label in IMDb, since it for reasons which I cannot understand only was screened on TV in US. In Europe we were more fortunate and got the chance to see it on the big screen that it deserved.

For my own part I suppose that I shouldn’t complain. After all I watched it properly, in a theatre big enough make this lavish, glamorous and glittering film look at its best.

Never heard of Liberace
Coming this far in the review writing I’m asking myself: does everyone here know the story of this film or do I need to make a short summary? Have the people who hang in the café for drinks and food for thought even heard of the pianist named Liberace?

Judging from how he’s presented in the movie, as a super star among the super stars, you would think we’d all be familiar with his name. But if I go to myself, I hadn’t heard about the guy before. I don’t know if this is a sign of that his fame hadn’t reached Sweden, or if I’ve been living under a rock and missed out something that everyone else knows about.

In any case you’re as ignorant as me, you don’t need to worry. This film is just as enjoyable anyway. I can even imagine it’s an advantage to be clueless about the real Liberace. Then you won’t run the danger of falling into the trap of comparing the movie against reality, which always is a risk with biopics.

The point of this film is not to make a documentary-like portray of a real person. This doesn’t rely on the gossip value. It’s simply a good story about the rise and fall of a love relationship between two men, a story that would be worth telling even if it was entirely made up.

IMDb puts it in the genres “biography”, “drama” and “romance”, but I would like to add “thriller” or possibly even “horror”, since it goes in to a pretty creepy territory when Liberace suggests his younger lover to do certain things that won’t be revealed here, but which are rather shocking.

Too much is wonderful
“Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful” is the tagline of the film, which I think is spot on in describing it. There’s an abundance of flair, of costumes, of feathers and glitter and Jacuzzis and champagne. In this way it fits well into the decadence theme that trended in movies in 2013, starting with Behind the Candelabra, followed by The Great Gatsby and Spring Breakers, finishing with The Wolf of Wall Street which obviously topped everything.

Michael Douglas didn’t get any Academy Award for his Liberace performace. I don’t think he even was eligible, because of the TV-movie label. But he’s got plenty of other, less significant, awards, and he deserves each one of them. I’ve heard interviews with him where he sounded happy and proud of his appearance in this film, and he has every right to be so. Here he plays the whole register, not only on the piano, but as a person, altering between being a tender, sympathetic, vulnerable older lover to being a creepy, possessive, narcissistic lying jerk.

“I want to be everything to you, Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend.”, Liberace says to his partner.

Michael Douglas manages to be all of this, in a believable way. He doesn’t feel like the cartoonish figure he could have been. He’s alive.

And I still can’t grasp why this is a TV-movie. It’s a shame.

Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh, US 2013) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

17 Responses

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  1. I never thought of it as a TV film since I still think of it as cinema since it did premiere at Cannes on the big screen and was meant to be shown in big screens but Hollywood studios didn’t want to do the film because they thought it was too gay. Thank goodness for HBO for having the guts to back up Soderbergh as I think it’s a fitting swan song (unless he decides not to retire) to his career.


    January 16, 2014 at 1:23 am

    • Yes, I definitely don’t blame HBO for sending it, on the contrary. But it’s a disgrace that it was too gay for US cinema. Really.


      January 16, 2014 at 10:12 pm

  2. Liberace was big when I was a kid in the ’80s from what I remember, but my memories are pretty vague so it didn’t affect this film. From what I heard, Soderbergh planned it to be in the theaters, but studios wanted no part of it. Even with some strides, the landscape isn’t so open-minded over here. Douglas and Damon both give Oscar-worthy performances, so it’s great that it still saw the light of day.

    Dan Heaton

    January 16, 2014 at 5:17 am

    • It’s really awful if it was stopped in theatres because of the anti-gay movement. And this in the land that celebrates freedom? It doesn’t make sense. Douglas was awarded for this role, but yes, he really should have been up there for an Oscar. It’s that classy.


      January 16, 2014 at 10:14 pm

  3. Yeah, you are right about that TV-movie label, it is weird. Why should there be a difference as there are tons of movies released directly to DVD and they don’t get a label “direct-to-DVD film”. As for this movie I thought it was great as well and the performances were great. Found Rob Lowe to be very creepy…read it took them quite some time to put all the makeup on for him.


    January 16, 2014 at 8:57 am

    • Re Rob Lowe I didn’t recognize him at all! It was only afterwards that I learned he was in it and I couldn’t figure out in which role.


      January 16, 2014 at 10:15 pm

  4. For more TV movie goodness, check out Wit and Recount. Wit is about a professor (Emma Thompson, never better) who contracts cancer. Recount is about the 2000 US presedential election. Both are great films, deserving to be seen more. Due to having been made for TV, it seems like they never got the attention they should have gotten.


    January 16, 2014 at 9:08 am

    • Have not seen Wit (which I will check out), but Recount was very good. Also the one about Sarah Palin is worth watching: Game Change (with Julianne Moore). Another movie which I thought was very well made was the TLC one.


      January 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

      • More ideas, thanks! The only issue is to get to see it. I’ve become heavily depending on Netflix Sweden. But whenever you’re looking for a specific movie, chances are pretty high that you won’t find it.


        January 16, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    • Thank you for the tip! I have seen neither.


      January 16, 2014 at 10:16 pm

  5. Apparently it was considered “too gay” for Hollywood, which is why it was shifted onto TV. Obviously we’re more liberal over here in Europe! Crazy really.

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    January 16, 2014 at 9:49 am

    • I’ll never understand the stance in those matters in US. Like he constant bleeping when people are saying “bad words” in podcasts and on television. It’s so annoying! And besides I don’t think it works as intended. Even if you can’t hear the word, you think it, and the loud sound pulls your attention to it even more.


      January 16, 2014 at 10:19 pm

  6. Yeah, I agree with Chris up here. I think the reasons were that it was “too gay”, which is absurd.

    Really looking forward to seeing this film.


    January 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    • The argumentation is absurd. I would have thought we’d come further than that at this point.


      January 16, 2014 at 10:21 pm

  7. Loved this movie – Douglas and Damon were superb. And who knew Rob Lowe could be so funny!!!

    The Hot Rod

    January 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

  8. […] Behind the Candelabra It was a shame that this was marketed as a TV movie. […]

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