Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Chris and Don": A 30 Year love story of two auteurs

"Chris & Don: A Love Story" [“The Hollywood Life of Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy”] (2008) is an engaging documentary about the 30+ year relationship between British author Christopher Isherwood (1904-1985) and American (California) portrait artist Don Barchardy (1934- ). Isherwood’s best known book may be "The Berlin Stories" (1945), which would become the basis for the Broadway musical and later film "Cabaret". The film (in HD video and projected from digital projection systems only) is directed by Tina Mascari and Guido Santi. The production company is Asphalt Stars and it’s theatrical and DVD distribution is from Zeitgeist. The film runs 90 minutes. Somehow, the title reminds me of Artisan's experimental "Chuck & Buck" (2000).

Much of the film is narrated by Don, who often appears as he is today, in his 70s. Other directors and writers appear, including John Boorman (“Zardoz”), as well as James P. White. Isherwood's life was shaped in some ways by his experience of the collapse of sexual freedom that had existed in post-Weimar, 1920s Berlin with the rise of Hitler. Isherwood devoted some thought to the question of when social justice should be pursued among "groups" and when it mattered most among individuals.

The film contains a huge wealth of video that appears to be reprocessed from film as far back as the early 1930s, when Isherwood tried living in Berlin, before the Nazi takeover. Before that, he had gotten himself expelled from Cambridge for rebelling against the establishment when he wrote his sophomore exams. Later the film shows clips of their life in Los Angeles in the 50s and 60s. Some of the scenes may have been recreated to look authentic, and there is a small amount of humorous animation in which Don compares himself to a cat and Chris to a horse. In terms of the “polarities” as in the theory of Paul Rosenfels, the younger Don appears to have been “masculine” (corresponding to seeing himself as a cat). Later in the relationship Don would struggle with wanting to break away and become freer and develop a domain of his own, which he has later in life.

Don’s older brother was manic-depressive, and there is a harrowing scene of the brother getting electroshock treatments in the 50s. Later, the brother is shown at the age of 75 living in a small rooming house in LA.

Chris considers himself a “father figure” to his male lover 30 years his junior, and Dan says that he started adapting Chris’s speech patterns as he got older. He felt that Chris had “reproduced himself” within him.

The couple wrote a number of screenplays. Their best known work is "Frankenstein: The True Story" (1973). They wrote another script where the “monster” starts out as an attractive male and deteriorates rapidly, following the concept of Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray."

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