This film is emblematic of why I’ve started this blog. Even if meant implicitly through its pre-premiere interviews, presenting Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorsen as a “typical” or normal long-term gay male relationship is like calling Jesus’s relationship with Mary Magdalene a typical heterosexual marriage. In reality, and Scott Thorson’s subsequent palimony suit and book, Thorson’s relationship with Liberace was “explicitly” a kind of marriage, given the ties and responsibilities both men had with one another, however brief.
But a feature film–which this is, regardless of its homophobic shuffling to premium cable–lands differently in our culture. And regardless its fate, Douglas was made the front man for Soderbergh’s work (who maybe chose to let it stand for itself). For the makers (especially Douglas, in terming younger actors playing gay as risky or ballsy somehow) to foist a a story like this as “typical” is like saying the Jersey Shore denizens or Kardashians exemplify morally admirable lifestyles.
Unfortunately the source material of this film shares an outrageous ab-normality with those reality fixture freak shows. At core, Scott and Lee wrestle–literally and figuratively–with power, equality, internalized homophobia, and mutual happiness as every gay man does with the gay male object and/or partner of their affection. But like the earliest, and most vivid cinematic portrayals of gay male relationships, it transpires in an anormal vacuum, most devoid of other gay men and straight people. In this case, showbiz, and how and whether that’s “too gay” is beyond me, and certainly the bloodsport of showbiz reality TV (perhaps explaining the demise of Smash, or how “Gossip Girl Got Smashed,” subject of a future post).
Am I glad this film was made and picked up and shown on HBO? Of course (and if Rob Lowe and Debbie Reynolds aren’t at least nominated for Emmys, I plan to burn my “gay card” in protest). But qualifying it as some kind of socio-cultural advance in any way insults LGBT people generally, gay men specifically, and mostly the film and its makers.
Is this just hate-watching? No, because there’s an obvious detachment on the part of the “hater,” who can somehow go off and write something better or different. But for writers of gay male protagonist content, even in today’s Hollywood, those options are few indeed, especially with the persistently homophobic and racist assumptions of most executives, distributors, and producers.