The Joys of Berlin Before the Third Reich
Christopher & His Kind
Director, Geoffrey Sax
Based on the book by Christopher Isherwood
Reviewed by A. Sebastian Fortino
This film opens with legendary gay writer Christopher Isherwood, sitting at a typewriter, in an astoundingly white room recalling his youthful days some 30-years-prior when he was lured to Berlin to teach English. Although that wasn’t only it – he admits, “I went to Berlin for the boys.”
The film then flashes to his widowed mother, who does not wish him to go to Germany. Her reasons seem unconvincing at first – she wants him to go to medical school, he is a vibrant young writer – until the camera catches a photograph of her late husband in WWI dress. She reminds Christopher that the Germans killed him in battle, pain still runs deep between the two nations, even as late as 1931.
The film flashes back and forth between his breezy beachside home in California, the neat, cramped, Edwardian elegance of his mother’s home in England, and the heydays of Berlin cabarets. It delivers much the same story as in “The Berlin Stories” which later became the basis for the Academy-Award winning musical “Cabaret.” However, when he was asked to write “Christopher and His Kind” it was to expose the truth of those days, and he speaks about how he was always a gay rights activist.
It is much the same characters, yet it is a history, a memoir. He even names the real person behind Minnelli’s character, Jean Ross who like him left Berlin after the Nazi takeover. He bumps into her casually in London. She has become a communist, a reaction many people had to the advent of fascism. When asked if he can see her again she says farewell, implying that too much has passed, too many sad memories, of decadent people – gays, actors, bohemians – in addition to the loss of their wealthy Jewish friends the Landauers. Isherwood, in fact has lost someone too. He took his handsome German boyfriend to England only to see him sent back to Europe.
This telling of the true story behind his legendary short stories is a British-produced film for television. The sexuality – both literal sex and the mystique of sex – is raw and beautifully caught.
This film though will not capture the hearts of those who are not interested in the history of the time, the fact Isherwood took gay culture into the mainstream, living openly with his boyfriend in Hollywood, or are unaware of the musical “Cabaret.” However, Isherwood’s life, no matter how it is told – via fiction, or this more literal interpretation – will be an inspiration to anyone who wishes to learn to write about what one knows.
Sunday, Oct., 16th, 6:00 p.m., The Manor Entertainment Complex, Epic Theater, visit MGLFF.com for ticketing information.