Title: Chris & Don: A Love Story
Directed by: Guido Santi and Tina Mascara
Length: 90 minutes; DVD
Rating: Not Rated by the MPAA; my rating: 5 stars out of 5
Original release: 2007
A guest movie review by Leslie
Theirs was a true-life love story. The relationship between author Christopher Isherwood (whose work The Berlin Stories inspired “Cabaret”) and artist Don Bachardy is chronicled in this documentary. Through home movies, interviews and readings from Isherwood’s journal, the film reveals the pair’s openness about their affair, the struggles with their age difference and their final months together as Don dedicated his art to the dying Chris.
I am waiting impatiently for A Single Man, the movie based on the book by Christopher Isherwood (you can read Erastes’ review here) to be playing in a theater somewhere remotely close to where I live (it hasn’t happened, yet). In the course of waiting, I remembered this documentary which a friend saw two years ago at the Provincetown Film Festival and said was excellent. A quick search on Netflix revealed that the DVD had been released earlier this year so I added it to my queue and watched it twice in two days. Yes, I liked this movie, a lot.
Christopher Isherwood was 46 years old when he met 16 year old Don Bachardy on the “queer beach” in Santa Monica in 1952. Isherwood had emigrated to the US in 1939 with his friend, poet W.H. Auden. He was well established as a writer, comfortable with his homosexuality, and longed for a loving, committed relationship with another man. He found the latter in his life with Don.
Isherwood died in 1986. Bachardy still lives in the home they shared together for more than 30 years. He is a fit, spry, and handsome septuagenarian who shared his life candidly with the filmmakers, giving them access to diaries, photographs, home movies, and his memories. The result is a touching love story between two people (the fact that they are both men is almost irrelevant) that withstood the test of time.
An interesting anecdote in the movie concerns the writing of A Single Man. Apparently, in the early sixties, Bachardy went through a phase where he needed to sow a few wild oats—understandable, really, given how young he was when he settled down with Chris. While Isherwood did give him the freedom to be involved with other men, the thought of losing his lover prompted the idea for the novel. The story also helped Don realize where his true heart was in his life with Chris.
In general, I like documentaries and I thought this one was particularly well done. It had a few talking heads but not so many as to be annoying. I enjoyed the home movies, photographs, Bachardy’s narration and scenes of his present-day life, including his art. A few critics have criticized the animated sequences and the recreation of a few moments in Chris and Don’s lives but I didn’t find them particularly problematic. In fact, the animation at the end was very sweet and brought a few tears to my eyes.
As we struggle, these days, with gay rights and marriage equality, it is interesting to see a portrait of two men who figured out how to make it work, especially in a time when very few people were open and honest about their sexuality. Chris and Don were and this film is a fitting tribute to their love and life together. Highly recommended.