HOW IRONIC THAT ISHERWOOD WAS SO POPULAR IN HOLLYWOOD Hitlist THE BEST FILM & DVD RELEASES*
✽✽ Food Inc Food conglomerates have been messing with what you eat for years, find out how and why with this fascinating documentary. See review, opposite. Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 12-Thu 18 Feb; GFT, Glasgow from Tue 16-Thu 18 Feb. ✽✽ Youth in Revolt Fittingly Salinger-esque tale of youthful dissent and escape starring Michael Cera. Destined for cult status. See review, page 49. General release from Fri 5 Feb. ✽✽ Ponyo Newest animated feature from Studio Ghibli is their finest since Spirited Away. See review opposite. General release from Fri 5 Feb. ✽✽ Invictus Worthy but worthwhile film about how Nelson Mandela united his country through rugby. See review, page 48. General release from Fri 5 Feb. ✽✽ Oil City Confidential Illuminating documentary about punk rock precursors Dr Feelgood. See Also Released, page 49. Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 5-Sun 7 Feb. ✽✽ A Prophet Tough and labyrinthine prison thriller. Out now on selected release. ✽✽ Precious Moving urban melodrama. Out now on general release. ✽✽ Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Dazzling Ian Dury biopic. Out now, selected release. ✽✽ The Road Fine adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Out now, selected release. ✽✽ The White Ribbon Hate, fear and feudalism in a small German town in the days prior to World War One. Matinees only. Cameo, Edinburgh from Fri 5-Thu 11 Feb. ✽✽ Died Young, Stayed Pretty Thought-provoking documentary about underground poster and flyer culture in the US. See review. Out Mon 8 Feb (ICA).
In camera With Tom Ford’s stylish adaptation of A Single Man, Allan Radcliffe looks into novelist Christopher Isherwood’s enduring relationship with the silver screen
T hink of Christopher Isherwood, and the first image that springs to mind is probably that of a bowler-hatted Liza Minnelli straddling an unsuspecting chair in Cabaret. It always feels like rough justice when a great author’s work is eclipsed by film adaptations, but in Isherwood’s case the association is fitting.
The Anglo-American novelist, playwright, translator, biographer and trailblazing gay rights activist had a long-standing association with the cinema. He carved out a parallel career as a Hollywood screenwriter on resettling in California in the late 1930s. His novel Prater Violet (1945) explores the notion of film-as-art through a group of characters making a movie in pre-World World II England. Indeed, Isherwood’s most famous opening line, from 1939’s Goodbye to Berlin, explicitly sets out the author’s view of the kinship between the writer and auteur filmmaker, squirreling away experiences for subsequent use: ‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.’ Like an auteur director Isherwood never shied away from mining his own life experiences as a rich source of material for his writing. His visits to Berlin in the early 1930s inspired his most famous novels, Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. The latter has been adapted twice for cinema. While Bob Fosse’s Cabaret scooped eight Oscars and made an international icon of Minnelli in the role of Sally Bowles, Kander and Ebb’s musical was itself inspired by John Van Druten’s theatre adaptation of Isherwood’s stories, I Am a Camera, which was made
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into a film starring Julie Harris as Sally Bowles and Laurence Harvey in the role of Isherwood. Unlike the films the original Berlin novels are fragmented – their loose, episodic structures having been pillaged and ironed out by Hollywood screenwriters. It’s ironic that Isherwood’s work should have been so popular with filmmakers working within the conservative Hollywood system. Having brought elements of gay underground culture to mainstream attention in the Berlin novels, Isherwood’s later, autobiographical novels, The World in the Evening (1954) and A Single Man (1964) reflected his status as one of the few internationally renowned figures at that time to be openly gay.
Perhaps the most astonishing area of his personal life was his 33-year relationship with the portrait painter Don Bachardy, which began in 1953 when Bachardy was 18. The story of one of the first openly gay relationships in Hollywood was the inspiration for Guido Santi and Tina Mascara’s moving 2007 documentary, Chris and Don: a Love Story.
It was precisely this unabashed gall regarding his sexuality, reflected in his characters, that attracted Tom Ford, director of A Single Man to Isherwood’s work. ‘One of the things I love is the way he depicted gay characters in just a simple, matter-of-fact way,’ Ford has said. ‘Their sexuality was never really an issue for the characters. Of course, most of his characters were autobiographical.’
A Single Man is on general release from Fri 12 Feb.