"Knight Thoughts" - exclusive web content
The 30 year relationship of writer Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy (seen above in the late 70s) is the subject of a
Men in Love:
Chris & Don: A Love Story
7-23-08 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive review
By Richard Knight, Jr.
If the relationship portrayed in Chris & Don: A Love Story were a modern day one it would hardly seem remarkable. But given
the time period when it began and flourished – the repressive early 1950s – it’s sort of extraordinary. “Chris” was writer Christopher
Isherwood, best known for “The Berlin Stories” which formed the basis for Cabaret and “Don” is Don Bachardy, who was Isherwood’s
lover from 1952 to 1986. When the two met Chris was 46 and Don just 16. The 30 year difference, given the proliferation of sugar
daddies and boy toys in the gay world isn’t so amazing, though the openness of the couple about their sexuality given the time
period certainly is.
What really helps filmmakers Tina Mascara and Guido Santi relate the portrait of this enduring gay relationship, however, is the
seemingly endless home movie footage the stylish couple shot of themselves. What’s not there is filled out with reenactments but
those are hardly needed as there’s so much vintage footage of the “the old horse” and “the kitty cat” (their pet names for each
other). We see them on vacation, at home, hobnobbing with famous friends. With no children or other distractions to point a
camera at (Isherwood didn’t even want pets to come between them) this isn’t exactly surprising and the footage in which we see Don
and Chris playful, tender, and frankly attempting to turn each other on, is terrific – these relics of gay history are worth the rest of
the movie. It is here rather than in Bachardy’s reminiscences that the couple’s tremendous vitality is most potent.
Bachardy, who still lives in the home he shared with Isherwood, acts as narrator for the film and recalls details of the relationship
(the two meeting on a beach in Santa Monica, Isherwood sleeping with Bachardy’s older brother Ted before they hooked up,
Isherwood’s reaction to Cabaret, etc.). In-between there are excerpts from their correspondence, the home movie footage and
reenactments, and guest appearances by Liza Minnelli, Leslie Caron, Michael York, and others who comment on aspects of the
relationship. Isherwood’s renown overshadowed Bachardy – as expected – until it was discovered that the latter had a talent for
portraiture which, when developed, helped to balance things out.
Though a charming, loving portrait appears we don’t get as much insight into why the relationship worked as I’d have liked. Why
was Isherwood, beyond Bachardy’s good looks and youthful vitality, so taken by him and what kept them together? Why did he write
obsessively about their relationship? What made Bachardy such a great muse? Something beyond the surface details of what
appears to have been a rather languorous and nomadic, jet set-like coexistence would have helped. Certainly a strong
mentor/student element was key to the success of the relationship and we are told that Don emulated Chris down to his speaking
voice and British accent but that tantalizing tidbit is left unexplored.
But then again, who can pinpoint and explain the depths of any enduring relationship with true precision? The mysteries of this gay
love story are revealed as are all relationships – in flecks and pieces and tiny, telling details – the aged but still energetic Barchardy
hesitating before a familiar and treasured object in their shared home overcome with emotion, the duo laughing and frolicking on a
beach, the young couple love struck in a gondola in Venice and not giving a tinker’s damn that their gondolier or anyone else is
looking on in disapproval. Details that anyone who has loved and lost, gay or straight, will instantly recognize.