Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Love is not the sweetest thing !

A trio of mesmerising star turn impersonations:  Derek Jacobi as painter Francis Bacon; Michael Douglas as Liberace; Helena Bonham-Carter almost as Elizabeth Taylor .....

I had been putting off seeing LOVE IS THE DEVIL and BEHIND THE CANDELABRA for some time, as I felt one may be too grim, and the other too camp - but they make up an astonishing double bill with a similar story arc: naive young man gets taken up by older artist who turns out to be a monster who tosses him aside when he has tired of him ... both stories capture facets of British and American gay life in the '60s and '70s and into the '80s perfectly .

In the 1960s, British painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) surprises a burglar and invites him to share his bed. The burglar, a working class man named George Dyer, 30 years Bacon's junior, accepts. Bacon finds Dyer's amorality and innocence attractive, introducing him to his Soho pals. In their sex life, Dyer dominates, Bacon is the masochist. Dyer's bouts with depression, his drinking and pill popping, and his satanic nightmares strain the relationship, as does his pain with Bacon's casual infidelities. Bacon paints, talks with wit, and, as Dyer spins out of control, begins to find him tiresome. Could Bacon care less?

or as I said, on IMDB the other week: 
LOVE IS THE DEVIL, 1998. More artistic temperament in spades in this study of the painter Francis Bacon, and the man in his life, George Dyer, a small time crook. Again the casting is the thing: Derek Jacobi is uncanny as Bacon – as mesmerising as he was in I CLAUDIUS, while a pre-Bond Daniel Craig seems just right as the working class man out of his depth with Bacon’s Soho drinking pals who include Tilda Swinton - young David Hockney is depicted here too. John Maybury’s film  - I see it as a filmic version of Munch's "the Scream" - though cannot depict any of Bacon’s art but the film suggests their nightmare quality. The destructive relationship between painter and muse is caught as Dyer falls into alcoholism and pill popping, before his suicide. Grim is the word, at least Frear’s film on Joe Orton, another gay maverick artist, PRICK UP YOUR EARS had a lot of humour among the increasingly grim dramatics. 
John Maybury's film astonishes on many levels, capturing the selfish artist and the untidy (putting it mildly) studio, and all that drinking at the Colony and other drinking clubs. Jacobi is astonishing, whether cleaning his teeth with Vim detergent, putting shoe polish in his hair and applying mascara and powder before he heads off for an afternoon on the razzle, as Dyer sinks deeper into misery and booze and pills - Craig, as he was in LAYER CAKE and THE MOTHER and ENDURING LOVE is as solid as he was as Bond, James Bond.

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, 2013: Before Elvis, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace, pianist and flamboyant star of stage and television. Scott Thorson, a young bisexual man raised in foster homes, is introduced to Liberace and quickly finds himself in a sexual and romantic relationship with the legendary pianist. Swaddled in wealth and excess, Scott and Liberace have a sx-year  affair, one that eventually Scott begins to find suffocating. Kept away from the outside world by the flashily effeminate yet deeply closeted Liberace, and submitting to extreme makeovers and even plastic surgery at the behest of his lover, Scott eventually rebels. When Liberace finds himself a new lover, Scott is tossed on the street. He then seeks legal redress for what he feels he has lost. But throughout, the bond between the young man and the star never completely tears ...
Another terrific HBO movie (see THE NORMAL HEART, gay interest label) this Liberace movie is played for laughs as well as dramatics as ageing predatory older man ensnares rather naive young man. Scott (as depicted by Matt Damon) does not seem quite on the make, but is soon revelling in the glitz and glamour of the Liberace lifestyle. It is a shock to see Lee without his wig, as he and Scott get more involved, with Scott too having plastic surgery to look more like Lee, who talks of adopting him. 
Both actors turn in mesmerising performances, plus I did not recognise Dan Ackroyd or Scott Bakula (who delivers the zinger line to Scott: "Right now you are Judy at the Sid Luft obsese era"), while Debbie Reynolds was initially unrecognisable as Lee's mother, and Rob Lowe is the hilarious plastic surgeon. The tackier side of American showbiz is nicely depicted too. It is everything that Soderbergh's MAGIC MIKE should have been (see Mike label) ... while Damon has maybe his best role since THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY and Douglas is truly extraordindary as the great faker and master showman. Left: Soderbergh with Douglas. Liberace's 1955 film SINCERELY YOURS is reviewed at Liberace label. Also, its hardly unfair to depict Liberace like this, after all he had the nerve to sue - and win! - that British paper for casting aspersions on his masculinity! Douglas and Reynolds knew Liberace and his mother, so I imagine their portrayals are spot on. 
More camp showbiz excess is provided by BURTON AND TAYLOR, the BBC's 2013 biopic on the 1983 final teaming of the Great Lovers, who were selling themselves to the public, on stage in a doomed revival of Coward's PRIVATE LIVES. It was a last throw of the dice for Taylor to get Burton back into her orbit, even though he was poised to marry again. Helena (aided by great make-up, wigs, and those purple and lilac outfits) captures the capricious great star, forever late for rehearsals and seemingly not taking it seriously, to the annoyance of Burton and their director, but she delivers when she has to. She is also never far from the drinks trolley .... 
as Burton tries to avoid the booze and do the work. Bonham-Carter is fine as Taylor, but Dominic West suggests nothing of Burton's looks or voice to me, but does radiate a powerful presence, as he becomes horrified at the circus their play has become as the public come to see The Burtons ...
I saw The Burtons up close in 1970 at that Cinema City exhibition in London, as I have detailed previously - Taylor label - where they were with director Joseph Losey and critic Dilys Powell (left) as they were annoyed their SECRET CEREMONY film was a flop and being re-edited and sold to television. Eliizabeth looked marvellous in a gypsy type dress as she flashed that diamond, while Burton was in ranting mood in a safari suit!  The BBC film direted by Richard Laxton, captures a lot of their charisma and is jolly good fun. 

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