Christopher and His Kind

| June 29, 2011

A straight adaptation of any material into fiction film is never useful or fanciful because movies must be made from the stuff of dreams. Adapting author Christopher Isherwood’s memoir is like trying to remake Cabaret (1972) with Rene Zellweger, which was rumored to be in the works in 2005. While autobiographical adaptations can be refreshing, It should only be done so many times. A perfect example was In Cold Blood (2005) and and the star-studded Infamous (2006) with Toby Jones which never competed in the same arena of accolades or box office because Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote was already soldered to pop culture consciousness and movie-goer memory.
Instead of an attempt to capture the true “Berlin Stories,” its better to see this new BBC production as an adaptation of a memoir rather than a stand alone story. Directed by Geoffrey Sax (Frankie & Alice, White Noise) and starring Matt Smith (Doctor Who), His Kind is narrated by Isherwood (Smith) as he is penning his memoir. Toby Jones, who played gay Capote in Infamous also makes an appearance here as a queeny Brit named Gerald Hamilton with a fetish for being dominated. The lovely Imogen Poots plays Jean Ross, a tamer but still free-wheeling Sally Bowles character. The plot of His Kind follows along with Cabaret very similarly, but, in this adaptation, Sally’s rich german lover never becomes a source of jealousy – he never sleeps with the Isherwood character as implied in Cabaret.
Because Minnelli was the primary focal point in Cabaret, the Isherwood character played by Michael (Michael York) became more bisexual to accommodate the expansion of Bowles’ story. Whereas Sax portrays a very active homosexual lifestyle exploring his romance with Heinz and his unrequited relationship with English poet friend, W. H. Auden.
I was curious how Sax would envision the cabarets and underworld of Berlin in the 30s. His vision of pre-war Nazi Germany during the rise of Hitler isn’t nearly as gritty as Bobe Fosse’s but it gets close to it during scenes when Christopher explores the queer underbelly, a maze below-grade tunnels and viaducts steaming from boiler pressure and humidity gripping the air. The steam creates a vail of anonymity where gay men freely associate, images that Cabaret wouldn’t have dared show even in the ’72 if it expected to be considered Academy-Award worthy.
Every queer film made now not in theatrical distribution is faced with the challenge of appearing too sexually charged and motivated because few viewers are accustomed to seeing gays unabashedly having sex on screen. Where many queer filmmakers go wrong is by framing gay sex too bleakly and inartistic. Sax chooses to shoot sex scenes very directly and unromantic when appropriate the nature of Isherwood’s relations. Sax keenly leaves out lovemaking scenes between Isherwood and Heinz to preserve the legitimacy of their bond. His Kind continues to justify adaptation Isherwood material including award-winning Single Man (2009).
From BFS Entertainment, Christopher and His Kind goes on sale June 28th.

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