A Cabaret Indeed Old Chum

Chronicling the marital bliss of ‘Chris & Don: A Love Story.

Christopher Isherwood poses for his lover, Don Bachardy, in Chris & Don: A Love Story.

By John Stiles

Three for the price of one. That’s what you’ll get from Chris & Don: A Love Story. Part One is the love story as told by the surviving partner, Don Bachardy. Chris is Christopher Isherwood, of The Berlin Stories , the novel from which sprang the play and film, Cabaret. Isherwood and the literary and screen giants with whom he cavorted is Part Two. Part Three is just barely below the surface, and it is the story of an 18-year-old star-struck California teenager falling in with a worldly, nay otherworldly, sophisticate 30 years his senior.

The love story is told by the now 70-year-old Don Bachardy, with the aid of home movies of the two of them, stills, and the Michael York narration of Isherwood’s diary. Bachardy’s devotion to Isherwood is palpable. At the end of Isherwood’s life, Bachardy, by then a respected artist in his own right, drew the dying Isherwood relentlessly. Bachardy takes himself, and us, back to that time through his drawings. It is painful and touching.

Bachardy receives an autograph from Marilyn Monroe.

Leslie Caron and Liza Minnelli are interviewed, Igor Stravinsky and W.H. Auden appear in rare home-movie footage, film greats float in and out of Chris and Don’s lives as they make southern California their home. Isherwood’s fame helped shield them from the repressive American culture of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Chris and Don were out and proud before the expression had even gained currency.

The most challenging aspect of Chris & Don, though, is in the dynamic of their lopsided relationship. An admittedly star-struck teenager meets a star magnet well more than twice his age. Isherwood speaks to Bachardy’s impressionable youth in his diary. He and Bachardy confront the problem directly on more than one occasion. Their love, their fame, and their struggle together make for a spellbinding story. A complex story, a story of youth and age, of fairness and injustice, of joy and pain—a love story.

Chris & Don: A Love Story opens October 3 at Angelika Film Center.

John W. Stiles ( writes regularly for OutSmart magazine.


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