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Review: Chris & Don, A Love Story

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 31, 2008 8:25PM

2008_7chrisdon.jpg Distinguished English author Christopher Isherwood, best known for his book Berlin Stories, basis of the musical Cabaret, met teenaged Don Bachardy on a Malibu beach in 1953. Despite a thirty-year age difference (Isherwood was already in his his late forties) the two fell in love and carried on a relationship for over thirty years, ending when Isherwood died of cancer in 1986. That they lived openly as a couple at a time when unmarried straight couples had a hard time of it makes this new documentary, which opens tomorrow at the Landmark Century, that much more vaulable.

Bachardy, who became an accomplished artist in his own right, is at the movie's center. His lovely, haunting drawings are seen throughout. Now in his 70's he's still feisty and completely unapologetic about his life, telling his occasionaly-ribald stories with relish (most notably one involving Anna Magnani). Bachardy grew up in suburban L.A. as an autograph hound and since Isherwood was a screenwriter (The Loved One) who moved easily among Hollywood's elite, he managed to get several stars to sit for portraits. The documentary is stuffed with priceless home movie footage of celebrities like Tennessee Williams, Burt Lancaster, Leslie Caron and even Igor Stravinsky.

As Isherwood lay dying from cancer in the early 80's Bachardy was his full-time caretaker, drawing him incessantly even on the day of his death. There's a heartbreaking sequence where he shuffles through his drawings sequentially for the camera, a record of a slow, sad decline. Yet it's clear that with those agonized drawings Chris and Don were gradually coming to terms with what it would mean to be separated after so many decades together. It's a love story as poignant for their bravery as for their commitment to one another.