Soderbergh Makes Liberace Campier Than Ever

Slate's Culture Blog
April 8 2013 5:18 PM

Soderbergh Makes Liberace Campier Than Ever

Liberace
Michael Douglas as Liberace

Still from Youtube.

There’s some debate about which aesthetic term is appropriate when speaking of Liberace, the infamous Las Vegas piano-man who swore by excess and lived by the light of a thousand candelabras. My feeling has always been that he was more kitsch than camp, but then such distinctions are, for me, a matter of theological import. Regardless of what interpretive lens though which you choose to view the man, though, the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s new HBO movie portraying Liberace’s relationship with his hunky young driver Scott Thorson promises a film that will deliver camp delight in spades.

The glittering camp nuance that hooked me was the moment that Liberace (played, in a brilliant bit of unexpected casting, by Michael Douglas) first scans Thorson (a deliciously ingénue Matt Damon) in his dressing room with an effete little wiggle of the head. You can tell that when those eyes see something they want—be it furniture, fashion, or flesh—they are used to receiving it. And satisfaction does seem to be forthcoming for Liberace—at least until we eavesdrop on the two having a lover’s quarrel in the tub in which Thorson, understandably upset, points out that he “doesn’t even have his own face.” Perhaps Liberace has replaced the old one with something by Swarovski to match the décor?

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In any case, the slightly giddy, slightly gross electricity between Douglas and Damon is palpable and perfect for this romance born of late-capitalism’s decadence. Add on the tantalizing jolts of Rob Lowe as a plastic surgeon, Debbie Reynolds (!) as Liberace’s mother, and Dan Aykroyd as a gentleman who prefers to grip his telephone receiver like a teacup, and you’ve got the makings of a camp electrocution. I, for one, look forward to plugging in. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.