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Case Number 15588: Small Claims Court

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Chris & Don. A Love Story

Zeitgeist Films // 2007 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 2nd, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Brett Cullum is a camera...a digital Japanese handheld one that is impossible to focus. Damn him!

The Charge

No one believed they could last so long…

The Case

Hollywood marriages are lucky to survive a year. There's something about Tinsel town that makes couples want to split quicker than anywhere else on Earth. Despite how easily discarded traditional marriage is amongst movie stars, here we have the three decades long, "till death do us part" tale of a Hollywood writer and a young wannabe actor turned visual artist. The difference? It's two guys, and one of them was famous for writing the book which became the basis for the musical and film Cabaret.

British author Christopher Isherwood (I am a Camera) fell in love with Don Bachardy, when they met at Will Rogers Beach, even though they were thirty years apart (48 and 18 respectively). At first, the age difference sounds strange, but consider the average gap between most Hollywood couples (then throw Anna Nicole Smith in there for good measure!). Chris & Don. A Love Story is a surprisingly touching look at two men who made love work, when it wasn't cool to be gay and other homosexual men looked down on them for their age difference. You could see it as cliché, since their relationship sums up easily with a stuffy educated European falling for a young uninformed American looking only for adventure.

Don Bachardy is interviewed extensively for this documentary, and he is frank and honest about his relationship with his deceased partner. Actor Michael York, who played the author-inspired lead in Cabaret, reads from Christopher Isherwood's personal diaries to give us his input. Threaded throughout are priceless snippets of home movies and short interviews with Hollywood types who knew the couple. Vintage footage with Isherwood is also featured, as well as cute-as-a-button illustrations. The film is charming and never exploitative or seeking to sensationalize the story. We mainly hear from the couple, and even the celebrity interviews take a back seat. Liza Minelli pops up for only a sentence or two, while the project allows Don to ramble endlessly in his funny imitation of Isherwood's voice. There are odd omissions here and there, such as no interview with Isherwood's longtime friend actress Julie Harris. Sweet touches, such as the animation of a cat and horse the couple used as metaphors and pet names for each other, add a sense of wonder and endearment. We get to see a young painter grow up, and also witness an old established author fall in love and pass away.

Zeitgeist Films provides a nice presentation for Chris & Don. A Love Story, including a respectable transfer and extras. We get a widescreen letterboxed image which preserves the original aspect ratio but offers no enhancement. The visuals are clear, since most of the footage was shot on digital video for interviews using present day technology. Of course the home movies and archival footage varies wildly, depending on the quality of the source. Sound is an unassuming stereo that does fine with dialogue which is all that matters. Extras include interviews with Don and other luminaries, amounting to little bits cut from the film. Also included are home movies shown without sound, but they reveal much of what life was like for the couple. A nice touch is an 8-page booklet featuring Don's paintings of Christopher Isherwood, as well as one self-portrait. All in all, we get a solid enough technical showing combined with some interesting extras. Not a bad package.

Anybody who debates "gay marriage" in their head should give Chris & Don. A Love Story a whirl. It's remarkable to see two men have such a traditional coupling, all within an uncommon world of cultural icons and the glittering beaches of Santa Monica. Perhaps most moving is seeing Don reveal the daily sketches he did of Christopher, even as his lover lay dying of cancer. The artist drew his partner's death mask, as one final act of love between them. This documentary celebrates lives that would have never been complete without each other, and in the end that's the simple graceful beauty of a film like this. It shows us no matter how far-fetched the love seems, the power it has is transformative and transcendent.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 84

Perp Profile

Studio: Zeitgeist Films
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Gay
• Romance

Distinguishing Marks

• Home Movies
• Interviews
• Booklet


• IMDb
• Christopher Isherwood Foundation

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