Don Bachardy: Depth Perception



The celebrated career of English literary giant Christopher Isherwood — perhaps best known for his monumental Berlin Stories, source material for the beloved musical Cabaret — would cast a huge shadow over anyone in his orbit. Yet Don Bachardy, who, despite being more than 30 years junior to Isherwood, was partnered with the legendary writer from not long after their meeting on Valentine’s Day 1953 until the writer’s death in 1986, established his own unique place in the artistic firmament.

The 76-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., resident is a much in-demand and respected portraitist and writer in his own right. Besides painting thousands of portraits of politicians, film stars, and sundry everyday people who have sparked his interest, Bachardy also collaborated with Isherwood on television films (1973’s Frankenstein: The True Story has a cult following) and Broadway dramatizations (a short-running production of Isherwood's novel A Meeting by the River) as well as writing the 2000 tome Stars in My Eyes, which offered reflections on some of his more notable sittings. In one of Isherwood’s memoirs, Christopher and His Kind, Bachardy is described as “the ideal companion to whom you can reveal yourself totally and yet be loved for what you are, not what you pretend to be.” Their storied love affair has already been the subject of a 2008 documentary, Chris and Don, and a temporary breakup between the two inspired Isherwood to write his 1964 classic A Single Man, famously made into an acclaimed film last year by fashion designer turned director Tom Ford.

Bachardy speaks with The Advocate to discuss Ford’s film version of A Single Man (now available on DVD and Blu-ray), his prolific painting career, and his most vivid memory of life with Isherwood.

The Advocate: How many times have you seen A Single Man now?

Don Bachardy: I’ve seen it three times now, and if anything, it gets better. That’s the real test of a movie — to see it more than once.

What was your opinion the first time you watched it, when you saw Christopher’s great novel come to life?
Well, of course, I met with Tom Ford several times. I like him. I watched the filming. As enthusiastic as I was about him and the questions he asked, his intelligence, I was still very, very nervous at that first screening he invited me to because I knew him and liked him well enough, but I knew I couldn’t lie to him. I wouldn’t want to lie to him, and it wouldn’t be easy to tell him that I didn’t like it. It was just an enormous relief to me to be not only genuinely enthusiastic about the film but really to like it.

Tom made a few changes to the story when he adapted the novel. How did you feel about that?
I told him when he was beginning the project, once it was settled and he was really going to make it, I told him what Chris told writers who were adapting his novels to screenplays. He told them to make it their own because the mediums are so different — writing and filmmaking, novels and movies. It was hard to copy the novel; you’re bound to get in trouble. So Chris encouraged them to make movies about what the material meant to them personally, and I think that’s what Tom did and that’s why I think the film is so successful. You really feel when you’re watching it that he really minds about the material, he’s really involved in it emotionally, and I think that’s what makes the film work.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the de-gaying of the advertising campaign, that it gave the impression the film is a romance between Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. What were your thoughts on that?
I’m not in advertising, but I can understand that they didn’t want to suggest that it was a movie with a queer theme and perhaps maybe only suitable for a queer audience. That would be a great pity as well as a mistake because so many people who were most affected were my heterosexual friends, even more than my queer friends. If the campaign had made it clearer that it was a story about male love for other males, then that would have maybe shut a lot of the people out. That would have been too bad, I think. I can understand that, and a little bit of surprise for an audience really can’t hurt them.

Tags: film