Movie Poster: Chris & DonMuch like a rich deeply flavored stew, a good work of art as it simmers brings up to the surface flavors, and bits of ingredients which may have remained in the bottom of the stock pot. The documentary, Chris & Don, is a fine rich stew which works on many different levels. It is a story of two individuals, and how these two individuals met on a beach in Southern California during a summer in the 1950’s. It is a story of a complex writer (Isherwood) who by this stage in his life was comfortable with his own formed psyche, and a very young man of 18 (Don Bachardy) who was not yet fully formed, and like most people of this age today, seeking to find out who he was in his public life, as well as the emerging person from the inside.

Through the use of home movies, the documentary speaks on a particular sociological level, a microcosm of life in Hollywood, it speaks of two men out of the closet in a point in the entertainment industry when homophobia was clearly a byproduct of well paid public figures living dual lives. This duality was a way of life (Pre-Stonewall), yet here was Isherwood taking his 19 year old lover on location of Dr. John Ford, known as a director of films which spewed heterosexual testosterone. Don & Chris exposes their intimacy of a couple who’s 33 year relationship was not without its ups and downs yet were able to remain committed to one another by the use of their pet name persona; the younger man as a cat, and Isherwood being the old horse. What they would not share as humans, they were able to communicate as their favorite pet – their alter egos.

The film highlighted Isherwood as father figure, lover, and life partner, and one who supported, and paid for Barchardy and IshweroodBachardy’s training as a portrait artist. These segments were adeptly woven together through the use of actor Micheal York (who starred in the film version of Cabaret, based on Ishwerwood’s short stories), reading from Ishereood’s diaries which, incidentally, have now been published. As an artist, Barchardy shared drawings he made of Ishwerwood as he lay on his death bed, continuing to draw his life partner’s corpse on his death bed; an intimacy of unbound poignancy.

Finally, the the film touched me personally on many levels. It brought me back to my last intense relationship with Erik, a young man I met when I was 31, and he at age 18. Much in the same way as Chris & Don, I was in the same unique position to mold a person, and I remember friends critisizing me for embarking on a relationship which was highlighted, for some, as two people with fifteen years difference in their ages. This film reminded me that I used to say, “I think I found my Bachardy.” This documentary reminded me that Isherwood’s writing has had a great influence on my writing; my series of meditations based on the Stations of the Cross posted on “Where Are You Taking Me” being the result. Theological papers I have submitted use much of its construction to the “distanced first person” created by Ishwerwood.

Don & Chris is a rich fine stew, indeed. Partake, and maybe, like me, you have enough to feed you as to feel as though you just ordered take out.