There's every reason to think that a romance between a 48-year-old, blue-blooded, internationally-renowned writer and a star-struck, lower-middle-class lad wouldn't last. One might expect the older man to see the teen as no more than a sweet treat to be lightly savored before moving on, or that the lad might quickly outgrow his fascination with a lover thirty years his senior, but against all odds the romance between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy persisted.
Born in 1904, the blue-blooded Isherwood attended prestigious boarding schools in England before dropping out of Cambridge in 1925. Isherwood moved to Berlin, and published his first novel in 1928. He left Berlin in 1932 already an up-and-coming writer, and bounced about Europe until immigrating to the United States in 1939, settling in Hollywood, California where he continued to write novels and dabbled in scriptwriting. Despite professional successes including penning the novel adapted for the screen as Cabaret, Isherwood was perhaps best known within Hollywood circles for being an openly-gay man-about-town when most homosexuals were still closeted.
Isherwood taking up with Bachardy scandalized many of Isherwood's friends and associates, but the couple weathered it as they would many more ups and downs in their sexually-open relationship. Isherwood was a lover, father-figure and patron to Bachardy, taking him in and putting him through art school. The lad adopted Isherwood's effete English accent, mannerisms, and mode of dress, and found his portraiture clients among Isherwood's friends. As Isherwood's health declined and Bachardy's success as an artist increased, the power dynamic shifted but the relationship continued.
Isherwood was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his late seventies and died of it at age 81 in 1986. Throughout the last months of his life, Barchardy sketched Isherwood's portrait every day. These sketches which Barchardy displays for the camera in the home that he shared with Isherwood are beautifully poignant, reflecting the artist's grief in the depiction of the subject's pain, but also capturing the immense love between the two.
Documentary filmmakers Guido Santi and Tina Mascara competently depict this long-lived love affair through extended interviews with the now septuagenarian Don Bachardy, interviews with biographers and surviving friends, readings from Isherwood's diary voiced by Michael York, old photographs and home movies, expertly-rendered recreations, and fanciful, but ill-fitting, animation.
Chris & Don: A Love Story is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Archival footage is mostly excellent, while new material shows the limits of its HD video source, frequently looking slightly soft.
The DD 5.1 and 2.0 mixes sound fine with no dropouts or distortions. Optional English for the hearing impaired subtitles are provided.
An hour of deleted material and vintage home movies are also provided. The deleted material includes material shot with Bachardy at home and interviews with John Boorman, Leslie Caron and Gloria Stuart. A theatrical trailer and an eight-page booklet of Bachardy's portraits of Isherwood round out the extras.
Documentary filmmakers Guido Santi and Tina Mascara provide exactly what the title suggests: a conventional, warm-hearted look at an unconventional couple. Chris & Don: A Love Story is recommended.