Saturday, August 11, 2012

DVDebut--Geoffrey Sax's CHRISTOPHER & HIS KIND: finally, a properly "gay" Cabaret

Made, it appears, for British television (they show full-frontal on Brit TV?), CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND is a pleasant surprise in a number of ways. While it never quite escapes that certain TV-level plateau in its writing, direction and production values -- all is perfectly accept-able, mind you, but rarely rises above that -- the film still offers plenty of enjoyable moments, ripe visuals and stellar, sometimes juicy performances.

Based on the 1976 autobiographical book by  Christopher Isherwood, which has been adapted by Kevin Elyot and directed by Geoffrey Sax (pictured at left), this 90-minute movie plows through a raft of experiences that Isherwood had while in 1930s Germany during the build-up of Nazism that culminated in World War II. Infinitely "gayer" than its internationally known and much-beloved movie musical predecessor, Cabaret (itself lifted from the so-so Broadway show of the same name that boasted a very nice score, a deft turn by Joel Grey and little else), this TV movie quickly and smartly plays its trump card -- the fact that so much more can now be shown and told about homosexual life than was possible back in 1972, when the movie musical was first released -- ensuring that its core audience gets plenty of what it will surely demand (see below).

Fortunately, we get a bit more than sex and skin (though there is plenty of that and what we see is very nicely arrayed), starting with the surprisingly good and on-the-mark performance from Matt Smith (at left, above and below, and one of the many Dr. Whos), who portrays Isherwood as the randy and increasingly thoughtless and selfish young-unto-middle-aged man for whom life was basical-ly an interesting and enjoyable game. His square face, with deep-set eyes and broad nose, is even quite reminiscent of the young Michael York, who played the Isherwood character in Cabaret.

Also in the cast are Toby Jones, slumming enjoyably as one of the tenants in Christopher's rooming house, Lindsay Duncan (above, right), very well-cast as Isherwood's mother, and Imogen Poots (below) in the role of another tenant, the chanteuse Jean Ross, who would later be immortalized as Sally Bowles. Ms Poots, while she will not make you forget the sterling work of a certain Ms Minnelli, is quite good in her own right.

Unlike the musical version, C and His K concentrates on two of Isherwood's lovers during this period, the hunky German, Caspar (Alexander Doetsch, below), who is clearly in it for the money,

and a quieter, needy young man, Heinz (Douglas Booth, below), whom our "hero" takes under his wing (and other body parts) and whom he tries to spirit out of Nazi Germany before war begins.

The film moves quickly through one event after another and, interesting as these are, none of them cut deeply. Everything seems designed for speed and comprehension, which is certainly appreciated. But it leaves little room for art. The camerawork is generally kept close to the vest, for budget reasons I'm sure, and as usual, when you simply hang those red, black and white Swastika banners adjacent a building or two, you've immediately created a colorful and corrupt Nazi Germany.

Still, Smith's nailing of the Isherwood character, the many fine supporting performances, and the filmmakers' insistence that the entire scene, at long last, be as gay as it actually was go a long way toward making the movie an entertaining watch.

Christopher and His Kind made its DVD debut at the end of this past June (sorry, no Blu-ray) and is available now for purchase or rental from the usual suspects.

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