When noted British writer Christopher Isherwood (whose Berlin Stories would become the basis of the 1972 film Cabaret ), met Don Bachardy in the early 1950s, the latter was a 15-year-old boy with a substantially unformed personality and a fixation on all things related to Hollywood. The significant age difference notwithstanding, it was the beginning of a relationship that would last until the much older writer’s death in 1986. Filmmakers Tina Mascara and Guido Santi’s documentary chronicles their relationship through the eyes of Don, now an elderly man and noted painter, who has contemplated his time with Isherwood for more than 20 years. The result is something that is not only a cinematic memoir about a single relationship, but also an accounting of an era (if not several) and the intricate and particular notions attendant to that era regarding homosexuality, and the way those notions played out in the choices, however limited, these men made for themselves and their relationships. It’s an extraordinary film that gay audiences will find particularly salient, no doubt, yet audiences with an affinity for the writings of Isherwood or nostalgia for the golden age of Hollywood may find it intriguing as well, thus upping the prospects for box office receipts. That notwithstanding, Chris and Don: A Love Story is fundamentally just that.
Told mostly through a series of contemporary interviews with Bachardy, the film also includes interviews with a few notables who knew both he and Isherwood during the formative period of their relationship (including Sid Caron and Jack Larsen); a number or wonderful photographs (Bachardy was a diligent documentarian); and 8mm film clips of Isherwood and a very young Barchardy. Additionally, Chris and Don also benefits from a few short animations that feature the Cat and Horse personas he and Isherwood adopted early in their relationship to speak to their deepest needs and fears—of which there were many—when emotions ran too deep for the presence of actual self.
Then there are the diaries.
Isherwood’s diaries date back to his meeting Don on the beaches of Santa Monica where he, Don and Don’s brother first became friends. In the writer’s inimitable style, he records his impressions, emotions and desires regarding this young man who would become a surrogate son, lover and eventual caretaker to this giant of literature over the course of their 30-plus-year relationship with a quality that is painterly, to unavoidably mix metaphors, and, often, breathtaking.
Cast: Don Bachardy, John Boorman, Leslie Caron, Christopher Isherwood and Jack Larsson
Directors: Tina Mascara and Guido Santi
Producers: Tina Mascara, Guido Santi, Julia Alexander and James White
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: July 4 LA