It will come as no surprise that the documentary The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is not about Peter Beardsley although in fairness it could be an ironically titled documentary about our Editor (‘You’re fired! – Ed). Instead it’s about Bjorn Andresen. Now he may not be a household name but his appearance in 1971 art house classic ‘Death in Venice’ became a big deal when its director pronounced the 15 year old as The Most Beautiful Boy in the World. Perhaps this might not raise eyebrows but the film’s director Lucino Visconti was openly gay and had gone on an extensive search / audition for the ‘perfect boy’ to appear in forthcoming project that would star Dirk Bogarde as a sickly composer recovering in Venice and becoming fixated upon a teenage boy. Arguably Visconti’s film could be seen as semi autobiographical.
Operation Yewtree, and especially the Jimmy Saville scandal, makes this an initially alarming watch and there’s something undoubtedly queasy about Visconti filming Andresen’s ‘audition’ in a hotel where he orders him to strip down to his underwear and it’s hard to imagine that would ever be allowed today. Then seeing Andresen travelling round the world on a promotional tour with Visconti showing him off to the world is equally unedifying spectacle and it’s little wonder that it had a profound effect on him when we the documentary pick ups with him decades later and now living in the sort of filthy flat that can only be deep cleaned using napalm having been threatened with eviction by the landlord because of the state of the property.
His appearance is radically different now, a haggard heavy smoker with long grey hair and still troubled by his past with the documentary uncovering that here was a boy of a fragile disposition who never knew who his real father was and lived with his grandmother due to a devastating revelation unveiled later on in the film. It’s well known that studios regarded child stars in the film industry as commodities as seen with Judy Garland and the addictions she became drawn to in later life. Though Andresen never underwent that he clearly needed to be chaperoned far more responsibly than he was as his grandmother was to frail to do this herself. Overwhelmed with attention on the promotional tour in Japan he was pushed into making records, modelling clothes based on those he wore in the film and even become a notable influence on manga.
Yet this was all against a background of personal turmoil hardly helped by Visconti thrusting the boy into the limelight, when he was far more interested in making music, for which he was ill prepared and an industry that quickly tired of him (although he did have a memorable appearance in ‘Midsommar’). And at the same time there was tragedy going on for most of Andresen’s life which he struggled to process and impacted on his ability to commit to relationships with both his own children and the women in his life even when they staunchly stood by him for years. Andresen comes over as a likeable though an obviously troubled soul but there’s an old Noel Coward song titled, ‘Don’t put your daughter on the stage‘ and The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a salutary tale as to just why for both children and parents alike.
Here’s the trailer for The Most Beautiful Boy in the World…….