The three-and-a-half-decade relationship of the British writer Christopher Isherwood and the American portrait artist Don Bachardy is one of the ultimate true stories of a proto-gay-marriage succeeding in a forbidding climate....
Early in their relationship the two developed a special coded language to discuss themselves through notes and cartoon drawings in which Mr. Bachardy was a cat and Isherwood an old horse, and the movie develops these dialogues into short animated sequences. During a rocky period in the early 1960s when Mr. Bachardy began pursuing sexual encounters outside the relationship, they referred to his behavior as “mousing.” Mr. Isherwood’s anxiety, in which he imagined living without a partner, was reflected in his novel “A Single Man.”
In this pre-Stonewall era Isherwood’s increasingly acute political consciousness led him to make “the treatment of the homosexual a test by which every political party and government must be judged.”
The last section of the film, devoted to Mr. Isherwood’s slow decline from prostate cancer, is its most wrenching. Mr. Bachardy, determined to make Isherwood’s death “something we were doing together,” chronicled his deterioration, executing as many as 9 or 10 drawings a day, including one of his corpse.
Isherwood would have told him, “That’s what an artist would do,” Mr. Bachardy reflects, then adds, “And that’s what an artist did do.”
I’ll bet Shakespeare compromised himself a lot; anybody who’s in the entertainment industry does to some extent. But are you going to sink or swim? There’s a most awful daintiness in the idea that everything you write should be just so—perfection—and all the rest carefully destroyed so that it won’t hurt your image. Often this is a dangerous kind of vanity. Goodness knows, I’ve written lots of stuff that I hate, but there it is, flapping around in the vaults of various motion-picture studios; and sometimes I’ve done good work for the cinema. If you want the money, and you want to live that way, you’ve just got to take it. I suppose, under ideal circumstances, I would say, have some other profession and keep your writing for yourself.