In Hollywood, it’s always best to be the first person to do something groundbreaking. However, this can backfire too.
First, TV cancellations. We knew it would happen eventually – and indeed last week ABC pinkslipped Charlie’s Angels. If you ever watched, you probably knew just how egregiously bad it was – with terrible dialogue and even more implausible premises. The girls were certainly beautiful, but nowadays that alone doesn’t cut it. Curious here though, is the fact that the late, great, and wildly beloved original was never known for its writing or plots, either. Yet because it was an earlier time – and because it was the first of its kind – it survived and remains a classic today. In fact, entertainment is all about firsts – and the people who arrive there fastest tend to shine, although if you let too much time go by even icons lose their appeal. Here’s what I mean…
I’m genuinely curious because the guy led a fascinating – if bizarre – life, but I’m just not certain people would find it unusual nowadays. Even though he was definitely a first.
When the news surfaced that they were making a Liberace biopic, I had thought it strange that there hadn’t been one made already. (Turns out, there was, but nobody remembers it except that Victor Garber played the world’s most successful piano player). The name of this movie is Behind The Candelabra which should tell you a little something, too. But is it too late? When it was announced that Michael Douglas would play the lead role with Matt Damon as Liberace’s much younger lover, the first thing people started to discuss was Douglas’ health and ability to star in something like this.
My issue with the Liberace movie has nothing to do with anyone’s health or suitability. It has to do with interest – and the amount of time that’s lapsed since he died. Which is significant; the man born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in a Milwaukee suburb who would go on to become the highest paid entertainer in the world for two decades died twenty-four years ago. Anyone over the age of thirty has probably seen Liberace on TV. Did you know that he sued several tabloids who alleged he was gay – and won? If you’ve ever seen Liberace with his trademark fur capes, mirrors, and diamonds you know just how spectacularly over-the-top he was – and why he was nicknamed “Mr. Showmanship”. And you also know how many fans – largely older women – flocked to see him year after year.
Here’s the problem I see with the biopic. Which is being made for HBO, by the way, and its directed by Steven Soderbergh. These two facts alone will insure it a certain viewership and level of quality. But: no matter how out there Liberace was, audiences are now completely inured to shock tactics. We have Lady Gaga, and before her we had Madonna and before her, Cher. Outlandish costumes now are simply currency – they’re no longer spectacle. So why did they wait twenty-four years to make this film? I’m not sure – but it’s going to have to be extra extra good if it’s going to capture people’s attention, because the old weird-lifestyle-crazed-fame- seeker thing doesn’t pack as much punch now. This is not to say that it won’t be a good movie, but I believe the filmmakers would have been better equipped had they jumped on the idea as soon as he died (and when more of his fans were still alive). Having said this, will this be a spectacular vehicle for Michael Douglas? Beyond a doubt. Biopics tend to be crowd-pleasers and they also tend to be awards bait, so – because it’s on HBO – here’s looking at Douglas’ fifth Emmy nomination and possible first win.
2) Raging Bull
3) Coal Miner’s Daughter
4) Walk The Line