Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Film about Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy

Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy - David Hockney, 1968

Lately and at odd moments, I've been working my way through YouTube and DailyMotion for footage of well-known people - for those that I felt I'd get some better idea of from hearing their voices and seeing them move and gesture. I think these things can reveal a surprising amount about character. Or not!

So I've been just putting in a bunch of names to see what turned up.

At one point, 'Christopher Isherwood' went in and up came a trailer for Guido Santi and Tina Mascara’s documentary 'Chris and Don: A Love Story' (2007).

I missed the film on release, mainly I think cos I was traveling for the better part of that year. Usually my Isherwood-Bachardy radar is pretty well tuned! So this is a post about a film I haven't seen. Apart from the trailer above. And what I've only read -
Stephen Holden's New York Times film review and Kevin Thomas's for the Los Angeles Times.

I've devoured most of Isherwood's books - from the Berlin stories to 'Down There On A Visit' and beyond. And have posted about him - 'Christopher Isherwood - A Gay Role Model' (2 December 2006). And seen a fair number of Don Bachardy's portraits in various media.

Self portrait, 2003

Christopher Isherwood, Pen and Ink on Paper

Dan Castle, 1998

But I haven't much considered them much as lovers ...

Don, 16 and Chris, mid-40's - 1950's

... and life partners ...

... the subject of this 2007 movie.

In a very general way, I've always admired the way Isherwood and Bachardy were so completely 'out' at a time (the 1950's) when it was much more difficult than it is now. And out as a potentially long-term couple where there was such a large power differential - of age, education, fame, social class and self-awareness and identity.

Something for which they made no apologies but worked through - maybe somewhat serendipitously rather than by conscious design. Though Isherwood took certain planned steps, for example, when he realized Bachardy's talent for portrait painting. And Bachardy gained a greater sense of who he could be by mimicking Isherwood's style of speech, social mannerisms and attitudes, and so on - when you don't know who you are, copying can be a great first step to self-discovery.

While not diminishing the value of Isherwood's contribution to us in this, it should be pointed out that being 'other' in so many ways was very much of the well-spring of his literary output and its dynamo.

I also admire the way the couple dealt with some of the issues confronted by long-term couples, such as Bachardy's 'mousing' or extra-martial sex.

And Bachardy's extra-ordinarily beautiful attentiveness during Isherwood's final illness.

There is so much to be engaged by in the lives and relationship of this gay couple - and the real strength of the film for me is the footage of Isherwood and Bachardy so intensely together at different stages of their life together.

My views about Isherwood and Bachardy have come about from bits and pieces picked up from David Hockney's writings, Isherwood's own work, W H Auden's writings and so on. But now I'm off to the 'The (Gay) Bookshop' to buy the DVD of this documentary so I can consolidate my sense of them as a partnership.


  1. Again, fascinating. I love the way you tell this facts. wit from America.

  2. Again, fascinating. I love the way you tell this facts. wit from America.

  3. hey anon. before seeing the doco, i just wanted to tell those who'd initially missed it - like me! when i do watch it, maybe i'll say something more about it - offer more of a point of view, apart from my general comments - cos i am fascinated by Isherwood's work, his being gay, and his interest in indian philosophy and the way it informed his outlook and writing.

  4. Never heard of that couple before but was moved to hear about their relationship in those times. And that 1950's pic of those two made me think that it was a father and son picture!! They look alike in that regard.

    I guess stories like these bring hope to gay couples that they can be together more than just a year or so...

  5. hey greg. an inspirational couple for sure. isherwood was the guy who wrote a book called 'i am a camera' which was the basis for the script for the film 'cabaret'. and a great novel (i think!) 'down there on a visit' - reckon you'd love it. it has 4 short stories in it - the one called 'paul' is the one i like best.