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The Devil Made Me Do It
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Jim Morrison speaks to Tim Lies. The deceased former frontman of 1960's band The Doors allegedly visits the Beijing-based musician/independent filmmaker in his dreams and offers the kind of encouragement that you'd expect to come out of the mouth of an ageing hippy fortune-teller or self-empowerment guru.

"He (Morrison) was singing to me in front of a full symphony orchestra and he said: 'Tim, the revolution is coming through your head, the revolution's coming through your head'," Lies said. "I woke up the next day and before then I hadn't played a musical instrument but from the next day on all I could hear was music from the sky."

After stints as a journalist and an underground film producer in New York, the New Jersey-born Lies moved to Harbin of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province before coming to Beijing, where he formed a band called The Supernaturals and has spent nearly every Sunday of the past two-and-a-half years making a feature film called Megwoman (a play on the Chinese term meiguo ren, meaning American man).

A jack-of-all-trades, Lies is the film's writer, producer and director. Not content with these numerous professional titles, he has also adopted the alterego, Dr. 666. He can also talk the legs off a table.

Jokingly claiming (we assume) to be 666-years-old, Lies explained that he was searching for a way to combine his love of rock music with his love of movies when a figurative bolt of lightning struck him shortly after he touched down in the Middle Kingdom.

"When I first came to China I didn't know that they had rock bands, it was a revelation to me. When I was in Harbin we were playing at clubs that have never had rock bands before. But when I arrived in Beijing I saw that they have a little scene going on here and so I started seeing bands and making friends with people and I started to wonder how I was going to get this movie together and I just thought - it's gotta be about the new rock revolution."

Megwoman charts the adventures of Lucifer Jones, a middle-aged musician who winds up in China after being deported for unknown reasons from the United States. Upon meeting a motley crew of hedonistic English teachers, Jones chases the end of a rock rainbow where lies a pot of gigs in a handful of live venues. Being a "semi-autobiographical" production, the industrious Lies decided to cast himself in the lead role, which sees him bed numerous women and pursue a life akin to that of a boozed-up college undergrad.

Far from being just another story about a sleazy, washed-up rocker who continues to grow old disgracefully in an environment of cheap beer and impressionable young ladies, Lies says that Megwoman is actually a rich social allegory.

"The movie is not just me walking around being a rock star, it has a deep subtext - it challenges the Western concepts of good and evil and the entire history of the world by saying that China is going to rise up and America is going to fall," Lies said.

"It works on a lot of deep levels."

Calling on every friend he could to help out, Lies shot Megwoman on a single digital camera and stuck to a meager budget he saved over a few years from his job as an English teacher. When there was no one else around to assist, improvisation kicked in.

"I went to Harbin airport, put the camera down and shot and there's people all over the place. The movie is just a lot of willpower and a ton of love," he said.

"There's not a professional actor in the film but there's a lot of good acting. You'll be surprised that people who are complete amateurs are better than these idiots who are making these Hollywood movies."

A firm believer that China's underground rock scene is on the verge of worldwide recognition, Lies sought the co-operation of local venues and dozens of bands including Brain Failure, Ordnance, Second Hand Rose and Tin Liquid Oxygen.

"We have four major clubs portrayed in this movie: 13 Club, Mao House, Yugong Yi Shan and Mix Club and there's no way that if I was in Los Angeles that I could even get into a club and shoot anything," he said.

"China is a place where bands actually help each other. All of the bands in this movie are all part of this community and all support each other 100 percent. Like anywhere there's some negative stuff, some backstabbing stuff, some jealousy but it's more like a garage band feel rather than in LA where everyone hates each other."

The low production values, unintentionally humorous performances and absence of a coherent narrative place Megwoman firmly in the domain of student films, though it may find a loyal audience among cult and b-grade aficionados. But in order to reach this audience, Lies has a few hurdles yet to overcome.

"We are kind of like stuck a little bit in the middle here in terms of getting a permit for getting it shown. We may have to market the movie here in China as a music video or something like that," he said.

Not content with showcasing the talents of local up-and-coming rock n' rollers, the understated Lies also spoke of his grand scheme to ignite an independent film industry to rise beside China's underground music scene. And the name for this bold vision: Chinawood.

"I'm the only filmmaker in the world who doesn't want to go to Hollywood, I'm going to build Chinawood and Chinawood is going to be an industry in Asia which is going to be able to support itself with directors and filmmakers and musicians and artists who have a vision for this country and the world.

(China Daily June 9, 2007)

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