Lindsay Anderson’s Lost Documentary?

anderson.jpgI’m a huge fan of the late underrated director Lindsay Anderson, best known for his remarkable trilogy if…, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital (the first two are masterpieces and unavailable on DVD, a telling sign that the DVD format is inefficient at rectifying the gaping holes in film history, preferring such solid holiday sellers as Full House: The Complete Fifth Season). Lindsay Anderson, perhaps unable to get work in the 1980s, was reduced to helming puff pieces like Wham! In China: Foreign Skies. What I didn’t know was that, earlier this year, an archive of Anderson’s papers revealed the great director’s true intentions. Apparently, Anderson made a documentary showing the clash of Wham’s management with Chinese bureaucracy, hoping to show how Western values had an effect on China. Of the film, Anderson noted that it was made under “arbitrary orders from George Michael, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about …a young millionaire with an inflated ego. I was struck by his total disinterest in China. His vision only extends to the top 10.”

I wonder if Anderson was inspired enough by Jean-Luc Godard’s fascinating 1968 documentary, Sympathy for the Devil, which juxtaposed the Rolling Stones against a study of the revolutionary in Western culture, to make a similar film involving Wham.

[UPDATE: More information from the University of Stirling: “At the start of 1985 he had just returned from Washington DC where he had directed a troubled production of Hamlet which was plagued with problems and closed after a short run…..In a letter to a friend written in January 1986 he explained that he undertook the Wham! project ‘in a spirit of curiosity. Curiosity about China and curiosity about the odd confrontation of China and Wham! – and even a certain curiosity, not very great, about the phenomenon of Wham! itself.'” Also of interest: Anderson’s letter to the crew after Wham pulled him from the project. George Michael and Sony Music hold the rights to Anderson’s version and have prevented it from being seen.]

[UPDATE 2: Amazingly, someone has collected the whole of if.. on YouTube: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight (this segment has a corporal punishment long take with incredible blocking), Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven and Part Twelve.]


  1. I adore these movies too, though Anderson did get a bit more bonkers as he got older. “If” was the turning-point movie of my young life. Do you recall that Anderson ran out of money half way through so had to shoot the remaining scenes in sepia? Many critics tried to find the artistic significance in the sepia scenes without realising the actual reason. But for me, If was a defining movie– I did not understand it at the time as I was very young, but it really “spoke” to me. Understood it better on many viewings since. So sad that some of these great movies are not available – don’t know if I can face the YouTube versions.

    Another excellent movie that isn’t available and that I remember so well is Charlie Bubbles, with Albert Finney, a very young Liza Minnelli and Billie Whitelaw. Did you see that?

  2. Actually, Maxine, on the B&W/color angle, that isn’t the case at all (although I believed what you did for a long time). What really happened was this (from the IMDB and something confirmed in one of the Lindsay Anderson books I read years ago):

    Contrary to the story that says some scenes of the film are in BandW instead of colour because the production company was running short of money and saved money by having some scenes processed in monochrome, according to interviews with Malcolm McDowell, Lindsay Anderson and the cameraman, they first shot the scenes in the school chapel in monochrome because they had to use natural light that came in through the big stained-glass window, requiring high-speed film. The high-speed colour stock they tested was very grainy and the constantly-shifting colour values due to the angle of the light through the stained glass made it impossible to colour-correct, as well. So they decided to shoot those scenes in monochrome, and, when he saw the dailies, Anderson liked the way that it “broke up the surface of the film”, and decided to insert other monochrome scenes more or less at random, to help disorient the viewer as the film slipped from realism to fantasy.

    I’m going to have to check out Charlie Bubbles. Thanks for the pick!

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