The beautiful (straight) boy and the gay director. At this point, Visconti was already joking that Andrésen wasn't as beautiful as he'd been when the film was being shot.
What is it?
A 2021 Swedish documentary directed by Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri.
I love the title! What’s it about?
It’s about a boy who was known for a time as the most beautiful boy in the world.
You’re such a tease. And this boy was …
And was he? the most beautiful …?
He was very beautiful. He is the actor who played Tadzio in Luchino Visconti’s film version of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
You’ve just named three famous gay men in one sentence!
Actually, no. Andrésen wasn’t gay.
Oh. So why are we talking about this documentary, then?
Because Tadzio is a gay icon; and because he portrayed Tadzio, Andrésen became a gay icon too. But he’s straight, and he was only 16 years old when the film came out, so it was all kind of yucky for him.
I mean, it’s morally dubious. There’s Visconti, a famous, powerful gay man in his sixties, with a crew dominated by gay men, and they’re all slathering over this straight young guy. We gay folk often see ourselves as afflicted, but in this documentary it’s the gay men doing the oppressing and it’s a poor young straight guy who’s on the receiving end. And it messed up his life. He describes the experience as a nightmare.
Okay, yeah, I see what you mean. It is yucky.
So the documentary shows Andrésen’s troubled background (he was being pushed to stardom by his grandmother) and the whole circus around Death in Venice and Andrésen’s anointing as “the most beautiful boy in the world,” which was really a marketing tool to sell the film. I don’t imagine any boy, gay or straight, particularly wants that title hanging over them when they’re 16. But this boy was shy and sensitive, and the experience left him scarred for life.
That’s all really interesting, but given that he’s not gay, is this documentary relevant, or interesting, in a discussion of LGBTQ filmmaking?
I think it is, because as I mentioned, Andrésen became, against his wishes, a gay icon. What this documentary shows is the ugly underside of that beautiful image. (One of the interesting factoids we learn in the documentary is that his face became the model for the romantic hero in Japanese manga.)
One star. Men who are attracted to men will love this, because Björn Andrésen was eye candy (and, in a very different way, kind of still is). But it does make one question the gay community’s obsession with physical beauty. And how this can make us into predators who lose sight of the person behind the gorgeous face. It’s an unsettling and rather unusual film, and worth watching.