Throughout history, the world of filmmaking has chomped up childhoods in its sharpened teeth and spat them into an uncertain, damaged adulthood.
Stories of damaged and destroyed lives are commonplace: Judy Garland was fed an assortment of pills that stunted her growth and affected her mental health; Drew Barrymore was addicted to drugs and alcohol before she was a teenager; Corey Feldman was sexually abused and assaulted.
These young and tiny little lives are fed through a machine with no protection. With the popularity ofTikTok and Youtube, these child celebrities are on the rise with barely any safety net.
So it feels very pertinent that Kristina Lindströmand Kristian Petri’s documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is released now. The movie revolves around Björn Andresen who starred in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice and the title of this documentary relates to Visconti’s viewpoint on the star when he was just 15 years old. The striking young lad’s life was altered for the worse as he is pawned out and poked at by the world.
Now older, this irreversible damage the actor, now 66, is apparent. From the angelic looking boy who was propelled into an uncertain stardom to the long greying wizard like hair and beard now, the toll of Death in Venice is clear.
Lindström and Petri’s documentary pieces together this tragic story through interviews with Andresen now and footage of who he once was. Many scenes provoke a visceral discomfort when viewed, especially during Andresen’s audition scene when Visconti and his team have him strip down to assess his body. Despite working in film before with Roy Andersson, Death in Venice seemed to be his undoing.
The teenage actor is thrust into a limelight so bright that it burned with its burden, It also attracted moths that fluttered around him. His aging co-star Dirk Bogarde mused that whilst Andreson had a “mystic beauty,” he was “never allowed into the sun, kick a football about with his companions…or do anything which might have given him the smallest degree of pleasure. He suffered it all splendidly.”
Andresen had no real safeguard to this sudden twist in his childhood that was slowly stripped away from him. Uncomfortable encounters, rabid-mouthed press, and even schoolyard bullying left him a facsimile of his former self. A young life without sunshine or friends; the abject loneliness within this movie is disheartening.
Now a singer, big in Japan, Andresen’s life is irrefutably affected by Death in Venice – still to this day. And I guess that’s the only flaw in this film. It feels like, yet again, our eyes are drawn once more to Andresen’s life. We become moths over and over again.
Lindström and Petri’s The Most Beautiful Boy in the World calmly underscores the importance of protecting the childhoods of people thrust into fame far too young. It exposes how directors and producers treat actors – as a tool to be twisted and taunted until it breaks. This documentary, in all its tragedy, is a lesson we could all learn, lest we burn more upon the flame.