film note: Chris & Don: A Love Story

The couple that plays together...

Chris & Don: A Love Story
Directed by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi
USA, 2007

I loved this poignant if perhaps too reverent documentary about the relationship between American draughtsman Don Bachardy and writer Christopher Isherwood, not least because of its demonstration of the enduring, transformative power of desire and of art (Bachardy famously drew portraits in ink of Isherwood every day the last few weeks of his life, up through and past his death from prostate cancer in January 1986, after almost 30 years together.) and how those two things make similar demands on those committed to them.

The pair also seemed to prove the superiority of the Platonic ideal — Bachardy was 30 years Isherwood’s junior, became an artist in his own right under Isherwood’s mentorship, and I guess not coincidentally remained a dish throughout his life. I was also inspired by the fact that, not only were Isherwood and Bachardy open about their sexuality in a Hollywood full of closeted, bearded gay men that hated the flaunting of such freedom at the time, but they were open about their open, cross-generational relationship.

The filmmakers were lucky to be able to draw on a trove of selfies shot by the lovers in 16 and 8mm film, still photography, video, and of course, the paintings and drawings of Bachardy himself. Supplemented by animation that mimics the sentimental and childlike cartoons the pair would draw for each other as well as vintage-looking filmed re-creations as interludes and illustrations for Michael York’s voiceovers reading Isherwood’s Christopher and His Kind, this is far from being a talking-heads doc — although the talking heads aren’t bad, particularly a rather regal Leslie Caron, who knew the pair from the beginning. Caron would probably agree with me that they don’t make gay men like this anymore.

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Chris & Don: A Love Story
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