Bon Jovi Beijing?
Irene Lusztig lays her hand on China
The MFA launches a promising series of "Boston Film Artists" at 6 p.m. this
Wednesday with Irene Lusztig's provocative video vision of today's urban China,
To Beijing with Love and Squalor. (The connection with Salinger appears
to go no further than the title.) There, she insists, disco/consumer Communism
reigns, and the youth are only into dancing and shopping.
Lusztig, who now resides in New York, shot this documentary while a filmmaking
undergraduate at Harvard. She traveled to Beijing to hang out with two
longhaired, would-be rock musicians. They seem fairly promising the only time
we watch their band practice, with Little Richard vocals and a raw punkish
sound. But mostly they just hang out, chase frisky young women, complain about
their square, obedient parents, pose in their real Levi jeans, and say the
Chinese word for "fuck" a lot. The legacy of Tiananmen Square means nothing to
these slackers. Their culture heroes are foreign rockers like Wham, Michael
Jackson, and especially Bon Jovi for "Lay Your Hand on Me."
"Just because you had heard a single song by Bon Jovi, you felt you could look
down on others," one of them explains. They have no interest in China's first
rock star of the '80s (I missed his name), whose banned songs were chanted by
politically motivated students. They do admire China's current heavy-metal
favorites, Tongue Dynasty, whose escapist lyrics and randy act make them
popular even in Hong Kong.
Our guys are amusing in a depressing way, and the filmmaker clearly enjoys
their company, even if they're lazy, womanizing dreamers. Fortunately, Lusztig
goes beyond her protagonists to show the up-to-date milieu in which they move.
She brings her camera into the newly voguish NASA club, where hip young Chinese
dance happily to the Village People's "YMCA." She films in the headquarters of
Scorpion Records, the first alternative-music company in Beijing.
Unfortunately, Scorpion has released only one record in a year, with songs by
the boss's girlfriend. Mostly, the staff just hang out in their cool office
reading back issues of Rolling Stone.
Finally, Lusztig goes with her pals to a city far from Beijing, where the
parents of one of these musicians live. She films a revelatory dinner
conversation that shows the schism between Chinese generations. The young men
express their annoyance at the conservatism around them, at the fact that
practically every male has short hair. They wish to travel to America. "You
young people are all anarchists!" grumbles the Archie Bunkerish Communist
The MFA series continues at 1:30 p.m. on September 12 with part one of
talented Newton documentarian David Sutherland's The Farmer's Wife. In
October there will be showings of new films by locals Mary Kocol, Martha
Swetzoff, and Joshua Seftel.
Our very own Next Stop, Wonderland is the latest example of a
film that's been "Miramaxed": bought by the New York distributor, which then
goes hands-on (some say goes heavy-handed on) with a final mix and edit.
There's no saying "no" to Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein, who insists on the
final say for the release version of any film he purchases. Lately, he helped
put Smoke Signals into its present, very successful, form. Both Smoke
Signals' director, Chris Eyre, and the writer, Sherman Alexie, have
expressed gratitude. There's even a rumor that Weinstein was involved in the
release cut of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue.
I've seen Next Stop, Wonderland in several versions, before and after
Miramax, and I can say, with some reservations, that the Miramax release is the
better cut. Director/editor Brad Anderson, who was asked to go back into his
film, deleted about 20 minutes of slack (unneeded talk, some of the silly stuff
about killing a fish), recut some scenes, and restored from the cutting floor a
couple of episodes (best: Hope Davis imagining her ex-boyfriend in a mirror).
He kept practically all of Davis, who is always a joy to watch. In total: a
movie that's shorter and snappier, and definitely more fun.
But then there's that newly shot ending, which exemplifies Miramax's
box-office-motivated obsession with feel-good conclusions. There was a need of
something: the film's original final moments were inconclusive in an
aesthetically unsatisfying way. Now there's closure, but it seems obvious that
Weinstein insisted on closure up the kazoo. The last scenes, which would have
worked fine if brief and subtle, drag on, especially the dopy episode on an
Still, who am I to complain? Miramax paid $6 million to Newton's Robbins
Entertainment for the film at Sundance -- which everyone, including me,
believed was an exorbitant purchase price. Many involved in the production are
acquaintances and friends of mine, including Brad and the co-screenwriter, Lyn
Vaus. But their film didn't seem the stuff of which hits are made. Yet now that
it's been "Miramaxed," Next Stop, Wonderland is a nicely commercial
movie, pleasing both to arthouse types and regular folks with a romantic
streak. As I write, it's playing at the Nickelodeon, the Kendall Square, and
the Chestnut Hill.
According to Variety, only three American independent films of
the many released this summer (Next Stop, Wonderland is too new to
count) made money: The Opposite of Sex, Smoke Signals,
and, the surprise, Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss.