I remember when it was first mooted that the Royal and Derngate would give birth to a little arts cinema on its side patch of grass. We thought it sounded a very exciting prospect; at the same time we were a little sad that we thought it meant sacrificing a piece of green in the centre of town. X months later, and the Errol Flynn Filmhouse opened on 21st June and I’m delighted to say it’s thoroughly amazing. Particularly on a rare summery evening like yesterday, when the path to the cinema is graced with tables and chairs, with cinemagoers enjoying a refreshing glass of wine or a sensible coffee before the screening. And there was no need to worry about the loss of open space – the area outside has been landscaped beautifully and looks much greener than it did before.
The cinema itself was constructed as its own separate pod, sited at a slightly jaunty angle to the side of the theatre, but with a separate entrance to the box office and bar, and an integrated door to access the main building for other facilities. There are new happy welcoming staff, a range of different and rather classy eats and drinks, with the ability to take elegant wine glasses (made of glass – gosh!) and bottles even (incredible gosh!) into the cinema, which you can place on the nifty little tables that separate the seats. Ah yes, the seats!! They are of sumptuous black leather, they recline (useful for nodding off during a boring film no doubt), the seat numbers are discreetly obvious, if that isn’t an oxymoron, and they are fabulously comfortable. The auditorium is stylish, with a crystal clear unobstructed view of the screen and top quality sound. On the way home Mrs Chrisparkle said it was simply the best cinema she’s ever visited. I predict a rekindling of my interest in the art of film as a result of this terrific new venue for Northampton.
So our first choice of film at this cinema was Behind the Candelabra, the story of the relationship between Liberace and Scott Thorson, based on Thorson’s book of the same name. I had presumed this would be something of a “kiss and tell” account, which I would normally think was a somewhat scurrilous and unworthy practice. However, if Liberace did actually treat Scott Thorson in the way that the film depicts, then I’d say he was entirely justified in spilling the beans. The film cleverly shows how the 17 year old Thorson was one of a line of younger men that Liberace met, fancied, bedded, and kept as a luxury captive for a while; then got bored of and moved on when the next suitable young studlet came into sight.
It’s a really interesting, enjoyable and engrossing film, with a well-written and witty screenplay, bringing a lot of subtle and not so subtle humour to the first part of the story and making you very sympathetic to Thorson’s rather sad plight in the second half. Swayed by Liberace’s style and showmanship, and flattered by his attention, he quickly loses his independence and even his identity as he gets wrapped up in the star’s world. One aspect of this was Scott’s undergoing facial surgery at Liberace’s insistence so that he looked more like him; you can only imagine how much of a mental torture that would become when the relationship started to go sour. Following the surgery he ended up on a disastrous cocktail of drugs, from which, by the sound of it, he has never really recovered.
It’s a great cast and they work together brilliantly. Michael Douglas is an unnervingly realistic Liberace, brash and charismatic at his glittery piano, creepily predatory in his private relationships, pathetic and broken in his final days. Matt Damon is also superb as Scott, moving convincingly through a ten year timeline as he develops from young animal trainer to kept plaything, then as a discarded drug addict and finally undertaking a calm reconciliation with Liberace at the end of the star’s life. Dan Aykroyd plays Liberace’s agent Seymour with no-nonsense bullish determination, and there is a fantastically funny performance by Rob Lowe as the plastic surgery guru Dr Startz. Other excellent support is provided by Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother, a dab hand on the poker machines, and Bruce Ramsay as Liberace’s bitchy houseboy Carlucci. Liberace’s music is given a new lease of life by the late Marvin Hamlisch, who arranged the score in what would be his final film.
Steven Soderbergh, the director, had difficulty raising the funding for this film as many studios said it was “too gay”, whatever that means. Congratulations to the Errol Flynn Filmhouse for showing the film anyway – when Lady Duncansby enquired at the local Vue if they would be showing it, they said no because they considered it “unsuitable for Northampton”. Yes, the main characters in the film are gay but the issues of relationships, dependence, manipulation, loyalty, charisma, and so on are universal themes that have applied to everyone regardless of sexuality over the centuries. The film has had a very successful run here, and I believe they are bringing it back for at least one extra date. Very enjoyable and definitely worth seeing!