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Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Scrapbook of maverick who took the Michael
Mark Fisher | Scotsman 2/4/07
When the first public exhibition of material from the Lindsay Anderson Collection opens at Stirling's Changing Room gallery this month, there's one artifact you won't see. Anderson, a director who once said it was an artist's duty to be "a monster", was employed in 1985 to make a documentary about the "epoch-making" visit to China of Wham!
Quite what George Michael expected from the director of if..., O Lucky Man, Britannia Hospital and The White Bus is impossible to imagine, but needless to say, the results didn't sit comfortably with the pin-up poster profile of the country's then biggest pop group. Anderson was taken off the project, his footage heavily re-edited and eight songs added to the original four. Wham! in China: Foreign Skies still had his name on it, but there's little sense of it being "a Lindsay Anderson film".
To this day, Michael has not released the rights for Anderson's cut, called If You Were There. A copy does exist which researchers are permitted to view in private at the University of Stirling where the Anderson archive is held, but public screenings are forbidden.
For archivist Karl Magee and gallery development officer Kirsteen Macdonald, its absence simply leaves more room for other material from a vast collection. Anderson, below, was a hoarder, and the material inherited by the university after his death in 1994 is an archivist's dream. Under Magee's jurisdiction are copies of all the director's letters, photographs from his films, publicity posters and production notes from 40 theatre productions. There are letters from John Ford, Laurence Olivier and Bette Davis, a library of 2,000 books and 700 video cassettes, not to mention the leather jacket which the director was never seen without.
The exhibition, which takes its name from Anderson's 1993 autobiographical documentary, Is That All There Is?, attempts to give the casual gallery-goer a flavor of the times, while offering the more studious disciple a taste of the archive's contents.
"Rather than give a chronological biography, we're trying to give a wider sense of British cultural life and the cultural shifts that have taken place," says Macdonald. "For an audience who doesn't know Anderson's work, it will give an insight into the process of making art in any field."
The exhibition will reflect the aspirations of the 1950s through Anderson's involvement with the Free Cinema movement and the heyday of London's Royal Court. One section will feature a scene from O Lucky Man alongside an original draft of the script, a storyboard of the camera shots and candid pages from Anderson's diary. Elsewhere there will be letters, passports, scrapbooks, childhood memorabilia, international film posters and even a plastic Oscar.
"The nature of an archive means it's difficult to get people to see it, so we're taking stuff out of the boxes and putting it in an environment where people can get some sense of his life," says Magee. "He had so many strings to his bow. People tend to forget he was a major theatre director as well. If you look at the gaps between the feature films, he was never idle."
Actors enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Anderson, who spared them the worst of his acerbic temperament. Several, such as Malcolm McDowell and Arthur Lowe, worked with him repeatedly. Others, such as Helen Mirren and Robbie Coltrane, went on to greater fame.
By chance, one of his most loyal actors, Brian Pettifer, will be on stage in Glasgow when the exhibition opens in Stirling. Pettifer was the schoolboy who had his head pushed down the toilet in the public school fantasy of If... in 1968. Going by the same name, Biles, he appeared again as a trainee coffee salesman in 1973's O Lucky Man and as a management lackey in the state-of-the-nation satire Britannia Hospital in 1982.
"I was 17, and I did if... instead of going to drama college, which was a tricky decision at the time," says the former child actor, who is appearing in the Citizens' Theatre production of The Bevellers. "It was very fortuitous because it was a friendship that lasted until Lindsay died. He was about 30 years older but he didn't treat any of the boys as if they were simpletons. He could be abrasive - that's an understatement - but he was very good with actors and he worked hard with the boys to get decent performances. I realized if... was a significant film when it won the Palme d'Or and it was on the Six o' clock News. I went to New York on holiday and people would stop me in the street because I'd been in it."
Documentary, Authorship and the Pop Industry: The History of Lindsay
Anderson's If You Were There
Large article on the film posted exclusively on the site.
Plug pulled on screening of 'rogue' Wham! film
Karin Goodwin The Sunday Times - Scotland 4/16/06
Plans by Stirling University to hold the first public
screening of a film featuring the pop group Wham! have been shelved after George
Michael's manager refused permission. The university, which holds a copy of If
You Were There, a 90-minute documentary charting Wham!'s 1985 tour of China, was
given permission for the screening by Sony Music, Michael's record company.
However, the showing of the film, which was shot by Lindsay Anderson, the cult director, has been cancelled following an intervention by Andy Stephens, Michael's manager, who claims that the film is "dreadful" and should never be seen in public. Anderson, who directed the 1968 classic if...., starring Malcolm McDowell, was hired by the managers of Wham!, Jazz Summers and Simon Napier-Bell, to shoot footage of the teen idols' two-week trip to China, the first made by any western band.
Despite initial approval of the film, which contrasted traditional Chinese life with the gathering excitement surrounding the arrival of Wham! in the Far East, Anderson was ousted from the production 10 days after the rushes were screened in front of Michael and invited guests. To Anderson's fury, a new version - Wham! in China: Foreign Skies - directed by Strath Hamilton and Andy Morahan replaced his work.
The original film was supposed to be destroyed, but Anderson made a copy before being ordered from the cutting room. Despite 21 years passing since the incident, Michael's manager last week pulled the plug on the film's first screening. "It's a dreadful film," said Stephens. "It's a rogue copy that was supposed to have gone away and we don't want it to be seen in public. It's 20 years old and it's rubbish. Why on earth should we allow it to be shown?" Letters and diary entries held in the university's archive collection, donated after the film maker's death in 1994, record his growing disgust at the behavior of Michael, who went on to have a successful solo career following the break-up of Wham!. In an open letter sent to all involved in the project, Anderson claimed that Michael, "the man who signs the checks", influenced the final decision to bring in new directors to finish the film, although Anderson' s efforts had already cost about £1m.
He wrote: "I must admit that I was not prepared for the incredible waste, silliness, lack of conscience, ignorance, lack of grace, lack of scruple, egoism, weakness, duplicity and hypocrisy which have characterized the whole operation. Between them the Whammies have destroyed - or suppressed - an enjoyable, informative, entertaining and even at times beautiful film."
University representatives admitted they were dismayed by the decision to cancel the screening, which, they say, would have shed new light both on the work of Anderson, and the first western pop tour of China. "We want to make the archive as widely available as possible," said Karl Magee, the university archivist. "We have had a lot of interest in this film because it's never been seen in public before." He added that he could see no reason for the censorship. "It's hardly an MTV-style video, but as far as I can see it's not offensive," he said. "It's a possibility that it's about the vanity of those involved."
Filmed in April 1985 at Peking Workers Gymnasium in Beijing and Chung Shan Memorial Hall, Guanzhou
George Michael owns the rights to the film and has suppressed it from ever being publicly shown.
Archived 2001-08 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net