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

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

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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