Unseen Wham! documentary to get first public screening

Original version of Wham! In China unveiled

Original Lindsay Anderson cut of Wham! In China showing at BFI Southbank

British film and theatre director Lindsay Anderson was the brave – probably foolish – choice to film Wham! in 1985 on their famous 10-day visit to China, where they played two concerts (on 7th and 10th of April).

Anderson was in his early sixties in 1985 when he took the job and his career was rather in the doldrums after some singular and acclaimed work during the 1960s and 1970s (notably This Sporting Life (1963), the Palm D’Or winning If (1968) and O Lucky Man! (1973)). In his posthumously published diaries he admitted to having “no interest in Wham!” and stated that he was simply “doing this for the money”.

His lack of interest in Wham! must have been evident when Anderson presented his 77 min cut of the film, called If You Were There, to the dismay of the group, and in particular George Michael, who in essence, thought there was too much China and not enough Wham! in the film (there were just four songs from the tour, only one of which is a full performance).

The director was sacked, the editing team walked out and the film was entirely re-edited and renamed. It was released as Wham! in China: Foreign Skies, on VHS and laserdisc in 1986.

Sarah Bromage of the University of Stirling (home to a Lindsay Anderson archive) has seen If You Were There and says there was “a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the documentary”. She points out that “Anderson’s film shows the beginning of the influence of western youth culture and capitalism in Chinese Society. In particular his footage, lost in the released version of the film, exposes the vast cultural divide between this dynamic pop group, British civil servants and the Chinese authorities”. 

Lindsay Anderson’s original cut of Wham! In China: Foreign Skies is being shown at the BFI in London’s Southbank

Even the re-edited film is fairly rare these days (it has not been issued on DVD or blu-ray) but Lindsay Anderson’s cut has never been shown in public, at all, and has remained unseen in the near 40 years since it was filmed.

Now, with the permission of the George Michael Estate and Andrew Ridgeley, the British Film Institute is being allowed to screen If You Were There as part of their Anderson season called O Dreamland! Lindsay Anderson’s Dark British Cinema.

There will be two showings at London’s BFI Southbank: One on 25 May and another on 31 May. Tickets go on sale TODAY at 12.30pm. Book here.

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