Well into Chris & Don: A Love Story, we hear the voice of Christopher Isherwood for the first time. For the previous hour or so, we've been listening to his surviving partner of 34 years, painter Don Bachardy. Now, hearing the late author of The Berlin Stories, the realization is inescapable: The writer and the painter had exactly the same voice, exactly the same inflection, exactly the same accent.
By that point in the film, it shouldn't come as a surprise: As many of their longtime friends observe, Don, 30 years younger than Isherwood, was unformed when they first met. Even Bachardy admits, 'I'm an unconscious imitator.'
Directors Guido Santi and Tina Mascara have created a documentary as naked as the nudes Bachardy drew of Isherwood in his final years and the sketches he drew of Isherwood's body after the writer died of prostate cancer at their Los Angeles home in 1986.
With a rich trove of amazing archival film footage, much of which comes from Isherwood and Bachardy's home movies, as well as still photographs that Bachardy had taken of himself with Hollywood royalty, the lives of these two men are spread before us in this superbly crafted film.
We see Bachardy as an impossibly handsome youth and Isherwood beaming at him with uncontainable love. We're told how some in Hollywood - Joseph Cotten, for one - were openly derisive of both their homosexuality and their age difference.
Bachardy tells us of the bumps in their relationship, of the times when he believed that since Isherwood had had such a sexually populous past, he deserved a bit of variety as well. We understand that as great as their love was, they were human beings. Their frailty is why we're so drawn to their story: We want to know how they loved and how they survived and how Bachardy has gone on alone.
Long before the film ends, we understand how Bachardy has gone on: He carries Isherwood in every aspect of his being, just as he always has.
Rocky Mountain News, USA