23 July 2008

Once Upon A Time

Two people meeting and falling in love is not unusual. Two people meeting, falling in love and staying together successfully for over 30 years is unusual.

Chris & Don. A Love Story is a documentary about one such successful relationship. The two were together from 1952 until Chris died 34 years later. Their relationship warranted this wonderful film in large part because of who they were as individuals.

Christopher Isherwood was a noted writer whose Berlin Stories formed the basis of the story for Cabaret (1972).  In Cabaret, Michael York was essentially playing Isherwood and York, in fact, provides the narration for excerpts from Isherwod's diary that are read in Chris & Don. A Love Story.  

Isherwood was born to an upper class British family. He moved to Berlin in the 1920's but left when the Nazis came to power, eventually settling in Southern California. There he came to know the glitterati of Hollywood eventually meeting and falling in love with an impossibly handsome young man 30 years his junior.  That man was Southern California native Don Bachardy.

Don, only 18, was still very much in the process of finding himself at the time they met. He would eventually become an extraordinary artist whose drawings of some of Hollywood's elite are among the film's highlights.

Despite their age difference Chris and Don formed a loving couple. Not surprisingly, Chris was a bit of a father figure as well as mentor. Though perhaps Don was initially something of boy toy, he quickly grew into his own man and, as Chris became ill in the last years of his life, Don was taking care of him. Along the way their relationship experienced the requiste ups and downs. Like any long lasting couple, Chris and Don reveled in the ups and survived the downs.

Chris & Don. A Love Story is a portrait of two people who fall and stay in love. Many couples grow apart, others grow together. How this happens in any relationship is nothing short of a miracle. It requires sacrifice, patience and a desire to share not just one another's bodies, but minds and emotions.

The movie was possible because the pair took a lot of home movies and photographs from virtually the time they met until Chris died.  (This spares having to endure any more of the re-enactments that are the film's only blight.) Also, Don drew lots of pictures of Chris, almost compulsively at the end, including post mortem.

Much of the story is told in present day by Don, a remarkably fit 74 year old man who bicycles to the gym for work outs and still draws. He lives in the home he shared with Chris those many years.

I have not yet made reference to the obvious fact that this is the story of two gay men.  While the film explores their being "out " and together in a tightly-closeted Hollywood, their homosexuality was secondary to the main story. Chris and Don should be commended for their bravery in living together openly many years before Stonewall, but I think it wrong to look at this film as a "gay movie."  To do so would suggest that a gay couple is inherently different and the fact of their sexual preference supersedes all else. Hopefully our society is moving to the point where couples are just couples and need not be viewed as particular kinds of couples.

Chris & Don. A Love Story deserves to be seen as the story of two people who defy all odds and lived happily ever after.

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