Tuesday, May 03, 2011

"Liberace: Behind the Music" is a quick biography

I remember having a 10-inch LP of Liberace (1919-1987) back in the early 1950s, one of the first “classical’ records I ever had.  In 1997, I did drive past his museum in Las Vegas. 

Liberace: Behind the Music,” from Tango Pictures, directed by David Greene, is an older “video style” DVD (1988, and just full screen 1:31:1 aspect) “biography” of the performer, with Victor Garber playing the young adult artist (Wladsiu Valentino Liberace, or “Walter”).

The opening scene shows him gilded, and then he announces that Chopin is his favorite composer as he bangs our the A-flat “Heroic” Polonaise.  Then the movie shifts into acted biography mode.

Liberace talks about his ideas, of mixing classical and popular music for practical economic reasons (he says its about raising the standards of the average public), about the importance of “belief”, and his way of making eye contact with both the camera and the audience.

Inevitably, the movie will get into the “personal” area of his reticence, at first, with women.  Halfway through the film, his lawyers visit him at his home to confront him with rumors in the press about his then supposed homosexuality (and Oedipus complex).  Then, “there’s no smoke without fire.” His agent says “Start becoming more like everyone else.”  He’s pressured to fire Seymour (Saul Rubinek) over the rumors, but resists.

In 1963, as the film enters its second half, Liberace suffers kidney failure after inhaling cleaning fluid, and struggles to get a dialysis machine, and surprises everyone by recovering, after almost giving everything away.  The film then switches to his relationship with “chauffeur” Scott Thorson (Michael Dolan) which would result in a palimony suit, after he throws Scott out over his drug abuse.

Although the estate tried to conceal the fact somewhat, it’s highly probable that Liberace’s death at 67 was due to HIV infection. Toward the end, as he listens to the news about Rock Hudson, he takes off his toupee. "I just want to stay home and smell the roses."  He tells another friend that he wants to remain a private person, as he really had to in the 1950s.  He wants to "go out on top." 

Imdb lists a film “Liberace”, with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, planned for 2013.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of the museum on Las Vegas. 

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