Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Liberace is too gay for Hollywood

Allow me to divert you with a tale of my visit to the Liberace Museum during the 1990s. Sadly, I believe it has since closed. Situated in a vulgar shopping mall at the fringes of central (where else?) Las Vegas, …

Mon, Jan 7, 2013, 22:28


Allow me to divert you with a tale of my visit to the Liberace Museum during the 1990s. Sadly, I believe it has since closed. Situated in a vulgar shopping mall at the fringes of central (where else?) Las Vegas, the building sought to prove that there was no object — Rolls Royce, sofa, whatever — too large or too ungainly to be covered in rhinestones. The great man had, by this stage, been dead for over a decade, but there was no formal recognition in the museum that he was even the tiniest bit gay.

Anyway, here’s the point. As we toured the exhibits, we became trapped behind a couple of fans from the middle part of the United States. It soon became clear that they were convinced that all these stories about him being gay (that’s not the word they used) were so much filth and libel. “People will say anything these days.” Once upon a time, the majority thought that way. During the 1970s, a whole generation of TV viewers allowed themselves to believe that the likes of Larry Grayson and John Inman were “putting it on”. After all, if they were gay, they wouldn’t be allowed on decent people’s TV sets. Now, would they?

You would have thought that the folk who control Hollywood’s moneybags were a little less cloistered. Why, I have even heard tell that the odd movie executive might actually be a homosexual. They are, however, doing a good job of behaving like Middlesborough pensioners in front of the Generation Game in 1978. Steven Soderbergh has revealed that Behind the Candelabra, his upcoming film on Liberace starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon (see above), has ended up on HBO because Hollywood executives did, indeed, think that it was too darn gay. ”Nobody would make it. We went to everybody in town,” Soderbergh said. “We needed $5m. Nobody would do it. They said it was too gay. Everybody. This was after Brokeback Mountain, by the way. Which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us.”

It is, indeed, a faintly stunning story. Over the last decade, somewhat unexpectedly, attitudes in the entertainment industry have loosened somewhat. But there still remains a depressing perception that decent hard-working folk don’t want to have this weird hanky-panky forced down their throats after they return from a hard day fighting Communists or making socks for the boys in Korea. Think about it. Unless the percentage of gay people in the acting business is a lot lower than that in other professions (and I really, really don’t think that’s the case) then a depressing number of performers still feel uncomfortable about coming out. Who’d blame them? Think on this. What was the most surprising turn-up in the best picture Oscar race over the last 20 years? Why, the loss of Brokeback Mountain to the useless Crash, obviously. It could just be a coincidence that this reversal happened to film that concerned itself with gay characters. Couldn’t it? Yeah, right.

Apologies for sounding like an old Marxist, but it’s all about money. Hollywood isn’t really all that frightened of gay people. They could hardly do their job if they were. But they sustain a lingering fear that silly yokels (people less clever and enlightened than themselves) out there in America won’t go and see films about homosexuals. Heck, by telling you that story in the first paragraph, I have played to that rather ugly prejudice. It’s a Catch 22 situation, of course. If they won’t make the films, the yokels won’t go and see them. Show some guts, people.

At any rate, check out Behind the Candelabra when it turns up on Sky Atlantic later in the year. Soderbergh claims he’s retiring after its release. We’ll see. Shall we?

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