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Thread: The most beautiful boy in the world

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    The most beautiful boy in the world

    In 1970 the openly-gay Italian film director Luchino Visconti cast a shy, sensitive 15-year-old Swedish boy Bjorn Andresen in the role of Tadzio in Death in Venice and the boy's life was changed forever. Surviving footage shows the moment when a clearly-smitten, craggy-faced Visconti first sees Bjorn enter the audition room. When the director barks out a request for the boy to take off his top, a very uncomfortable-looking Bjorn mutters 'What?' But he does of course. A year later the movie was premiered in London before royalty, but it was its appearance a few weeks later at the Cannes film festival when it really entered the popularity stratosphere. Lots more footage exists of a smug Visconti shepherding the awkward-looking young actor through crowds of bulb-flashing paparazzi. In interviews Visconti referred to Bjorn as 'the most beautiful boy in the world' and the tag stuck. With his long wavy blond hair, his grey eyes, his distant, mysterious air and his slinky slim build, who could dispute the accolade?

    A recent documentary movie by Swedish filmmakers Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri takes Visconti's quote as its title and explores the effects of Death in Venice's huge worldwide success on the life of Bjorn Andresen. We know we're not in for a smooth ride when an early scene shows the now-mid-sixties actor (still long-haired but now it's grey and scraggly and he looks more like a wizened Gandalf) being harangued by his landlady for the filthy state in which he has been keeping his small apartment. Andresen shuffles about the room, confused and apologetic. There are numerous flashbacks to the 'glory days' of the movie being made and its ecstatic reception. Visconti does not emerge from that very favourably. He proudly claims to have told his (all-gay) film crew to 'not so much as look at' Andresen (well, any more than was strictly necessary presumably) in the interests of maintaining the movie's theme of idealised, almost asexual beauty and its effect on the ailing composer played by Dirk Bogarde - but one wonders if Visconti didn't also have a rather more selfish motive. He certainly comes over as ruthless and uncaring about his young charge's well-being.

    I hadn't realised that the movie was so big in Japan and there is much footage of Andresen's tour there where it seems everyone wanted a part of the action. Apparently he was the first of the many later teenaged icons in Japan. Most of the time he looks faintly bewildered, as well he might, what with the manga cartoons of him, the karaoke-style singing he had to do, and more. This was followed in due course by a year spent in Paris where wealthy gays wined and dined him and one benefactor maintained him in a luxury apartment with plenty of pocket money. The documentary does not shy away from painful probing much of the time and Andresen gives seemingly honest, sometimes tearful responses, but on the time in Paris it is notably reticent - perhaps just a bit too painful for Andresen to want to talk about in detail.

    Details of Andresen's early life emerge. He never knew who his father was and his artist mother wandered into the woods and took her own life when he was about ten. He then went to live with kindly but pushy grandparents who started him on the auditions path. He had already appeared in one movie before Visconti came along. It is quite likely he would have had later problems anyway given his disrupted childhood but the sudden huge fame of Death in Venice magnified them to the nth degree. It all seemed unreal and he felt like a fantasy object to people who had no genuine interest in him as he really was, shy and a bit messed up. As his older, time-ravaged self describes this gently and without noticeable self-pity, one feels the truth of what he is saying.

    He married in his late-twenties and had two children of his own but it was far from plain sailing. He suffered depressions, got drunk a lot and found it hard to shed his past. Near the end of the movie there is a shocking revelation which I won't spoil for anyone planning to watch it. It's an unsettling movie in many ways, not one I would recommend to anyone just looking for a sort of soft-porn buzz. But I found it intelligent, thought-provoking and, well, lifelike. Things that come on a golden platter often have undesired side-effects. By the end of the movie I felt that Andresen, though in some ways reconciled to what life has thrown at him (there are clips of him calmly playing the piano), is still working out his own problems. As I say, lifelike.

    For anyone interested, I watched the movie on lookmovie.io. It is in Swedish but a bit of fiddling with the controls brings up English subtitles.

  2. 3 Users gave Like to post:

    arsenal (August 29th, 2021), francois (August 30th, 2021), Ruthrieston (August 30th, 2021)

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