Director Steven Soderbergh first made a name for himself at the Cannes Film Festival with Sex, Lies, and Videotape -- so it seems appropriate that he puts what is rumored to be an end on his career at this year's Cannes with his new movie Behind The Candleabra.
Candleabra premiered Sunday on HBO, and is acknowledged to be Soderbergh's last film as he branches out from the medium. The film tells the story of the flamboyant pianist Liberacre (Michael Douglas) through the eyes of his significantly younger lover, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Soderbergh said that he first discovered his subject on television as a child, and had an inherent knowledge that there was something remarkable and different about the performer.
"[As an adult,] I can have a much broader appreciation of what a talent he was, and understand that he sort of created a kind of persona that a lot of other people appropriated," he told The Los Angeles Times Show Tracker blog. "This was before Elton John, before Cher, before Madonna, before Lady Gaga, before all of these often single-named, flamboyant, very entertaining performers. The guy was a real groundbreaker in terms of presentation."
The Candleabra project can be seen as a labor of love in part because it took so long for it to come to fruition. The director had been discussing the film with Douglas during the making of his 2000 film Traffic.
The film was also important because of the issues Soderbergh had to face down when he tried to put the movie out. These complications may have contributed to his newfound frustrations with the industry, which he has been actively discussing in the press.
"The consensus [from Warner Brothers] was that there would be no audience for the movie outside of a gay audience," said the director, "and that given the costs, they just felt like, 'We are not convinced, even with these elements involved, that there's an audience for this outside of gay people.'"
The director and his team certainly felt differently. "We thought there was a much broader audience for it, but that was what was coming back to us pretty consistently: 'This seems so gay that only gay people will like it.'"
Even beyond the homosexual aspects of the relationship, Soderbergh thinks the story of the couple is very familiar: "Older powerful figure, younger beautiful person with no power. Add showbiz and you've got a pretty complex mélange of elements."
Still, he hopes that the movie may drum up new interest in Liberace, but doesn't believe it's necessary in the name to rehabbing the performer's reputation.
"There's a layer of melancholy to the piece for me," the director said, "because of the knowledge, if it were today, he wouldn't have had to hide all this stuff - he could be Elton John. It's sad to think of how much effort went in to keeping these things hidden and how much stress it caused for him and the people around him, and there was no reason for it."
Ultimately, Soderbergh believes his film is a nuanced take of Liberace and Thorson's complex relationship.
"It's a very generous movie toward both of them," he said. "It takes the relationship seriously, and it takes both of them seriously."
Check out the Behind The Candleabra trailer!