Can HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” pump new life into the music of Liberace? The film’s music supervisor, Evyen Klean, believes it has a shot.
“The movie is going to expose Liberace’s music to a whole new fan base,” Klean said the day the film was making its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. “I think the music is a vehicle for the movie and the movie is a vehicle for exposing people to Liberace’s music.”
Starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover in the late 1970s, early ‘80s, the early reviews out of Cannes are extremely positive, especially for the lead actors’ performances. Among the film’s strong points are the arrangements of the late Marvin Hamlisch; “Behind the Candelabra” was the pianist’s final film. Elektra released the soundtrack on May 21.
Klean discussed Hamlisch’s role, the power of Liberace as a performer and Michael Douglas’ singing.
While the film is by no means a showcase of Liberace’s recording (only four of his works are in the film and on the soundtrack), you still get a strong sense of who he was as a performer. How was that scripted and how did you handle the balance of new recordings vs. the old one?
Evyen Klean: There is no underscore in the move and (director Steven Soderbergh) uses songs as a pacing device for sure. All of the songs are from the Liberace repertoire. Steven knew Marvin from a film they did, The Informant, and Marvin knew Lee (Liberace). Marvin and I started to chart out the arc of what had to happen musically and the bulk of the work needed to happen in production. Normally I break down the script and start budgeting the costs for the source and what the production would look like, then get to the music.
Since the story takes place after his recording career and there are no absolute musts in terms of the repertoire, how did you select the songs?
By the time I got the script much of that had been decided between Richard (LaGravenese) writing it and Steven. Some adjustments were made as the script went through polishes. An example would be “Kitten on the Keys.” Steven liked “Nola” better (as a performance piece) so Stephen used (Liberace’s version of) “Kitten on the Keys” for a non-performance piece. We went through versions of Liberace’s songs because he recorded lots of versions of songs and picked through the best performances. For Michael’s sake, we then would show footage of Liberace playing those pieces for Michael to model to.
Michael Douglas gets credit on three songs on the album. Obviously it is him singing “The Impossible Dream,” but are we not listening to the pianist Randy Kerber?
On “Why Do I Love You,” he’s the vocalist just as Lee was. In “The Liberace Boogie,” his dialogue is essentially the lyrics of the song. As we were putting together the soundtrack, the boogie has a lot of piano vamping while he is explaining what he is doing, soliciting the audience for a response. Working with Larry Blake, who is Steven’s sound guru, we pulled the applause, we pulled the call-and-responses and Michael’s voice, but it so lacked the overall feel in the movie. Without Michael in there it felt like a lot was missing.
When “Love is Blue” plays toward the end of the film, it’s a reminder that this music, despite it being associated with a much earlier time, was somehow still in the air and not a forgotten remnant.
Think about all of the people traveling to Vegas all over the world to watch Liberace? He was a pioneer. His versions are so amazing — they’re dramatic, they’re buoyant. He had his own style and as I dug in and listened, it was obvious he was an amazing musician. When you start to watch him over and over in these performances, it was mind-blowing. Yes, he’s extravagantly dressed and has a very Vegas-y show but it was cool. He was an artist.