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The Anti-"Milk": Will "Behind the Candelabra" Get Tarnished as Homophobic?

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by Anthony Kaufman
May 21, 2013 9:48 AM
1 Comment
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Watch out, GLAAD. While filmmaker Steven Soderbergh's Liberace bio-pic "Behind the Candelabra" presents a complex, ambiguous portrait of the famous flamboyant performer, the gay establishment could end up chastising the film for its unflattering depictions of a kind of "predatory homosexuality," as Variety critic Peter Debruge described it in a review from its Cannes Film Festival premiere, calling the movie the "anti-'Milk.'"

As Debruge writes, "Behind the Candelabra" presents "the world with a sort of worst-case version of predatory homosexuality, in which an older man of means identifies, seduces and eventually tosses aside a naive, cornfed young country stud."

“'Candelabra' could be seen in some circles as the anti-'Milk,'" continues Debruge. "Where that film offered a hagiographic whitewash of Harvey Milk’s complicated private life for the sake of contemporary gay rights, Richard LaGravenese’s script revels in some of the more sordid details surrounding Liberace, potentially stoking the panic that the youth aren’t safe from such characters."

At the Cannes press conference, LaGravenese implied that the HBO production was freer to paint a more complex picture. "You can have ambiguity in television," he said.

If the gay community finds such elements of the picture unseemly, it wouldn't be the first time. Many of the films of the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s, such as Tom Kalin's "Swoon," Greg Araki's "The Living End" and Mary Harron's "I Show Andy Warhol," were criticized in certain corners for depicting lesbians and homosexuals in a less than flattering light. But as the legacy of those films have shown, media representations of oppressed classes of people can--and should--be allowed to run the gambit, from good to bad to everything in between.

As Christine Vachon told me a couple years ago, "We were never on the right side of the gay politically correct," she admitted. "When we made 'Swoon,' people got really upset. GLAAD got really upset. In fact, I have yet to go to a GLAAD event. And it was the same year as 'Basic Instinct,' which was being reviled. (But I'm like: 'it's about a rich gorgeous lesbian who murders horrible straight man - what's so bad about that? Why is that not a positive image?') But we were being tarred with the same brush, and it forced a discussion, and probably one that we're still having, about what makes an image gay positive or not gay positive?"

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1 Comment

  • DomizianoA | May 22, 2013 9:54 PMReply

    Other great point: Where does freedom really stand? Not by telling the truth, or telling it as an edulcorate, sugar coated lie, in order to celebrate fake points, on the long run, they'd never succeed. They'd fail, since only honesty, as controversial as it may be, is what pays off historically and constitutionally!
    No lies were ever told in great movies!

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