M. Butterfly (1993)

R | 101 mins | Drama, Romance | 15 October 1993

Director:

David Cronenberg

Cinematographer:

Peter Suschitzky

Editor:

Ronald Sanders

Production Designer:

Carol Spier

Production Companies:

M. Butterfly Productions, Geffen Pictures
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HISTORY

       Following the successful Broadway debut of M. Butterfly, the 20 Apr 1988 LAHExam reported that filmmakers Warren Beatty, David Brown, Milos Forman, and Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. all expressed interest in producing a film version. The 9 Jun 1988 DV also named Roman Polanski among the interested parties. However, production notes in AMPAS library files stated that stage producer David Geffen obtained rights through his company, Geffen Pictures, which had an existing production deal with Warner Bros. Pictures. Adapting his play for his feature screenwriting debut, Hwang completed the first draft of the script in late 1990. Once David Cronenberg joined the project as director, Hwang made edits that shifted focus from the politics of the story to the relationship between the lead characters.
       M. Butterfly reunited Cronenberg with actor Jeremy Irons, who previously starred in the director’s 1988 picture, Dead Ringers (see entry). More than sixty men tested for the character of “Song Liling,” which according to the 31 Jan 1992 HR, included Alec Mapa, who acted opposite Philip Anglim in the Los Angeles, CA, and national touring productions of the play. Although Mapa was set to meet with Cronenberg in early Feb 1992 to discuss the possibility of reprising his role onscreen, former Beijing Opera performer and actor John Lone was cast instead.
       Due to political unrest in mainland China, filmmakers spent six months negotiating permission to film in the country while concurrently preparing backup locations in the Special Administrative Region of Macao. Although the 28 Apr 1992 HR production chart listed a start date of 24 Aug 1992, the 17 Nov 1992 ... More Less

       Following the successful Broadway debut of M. Butterfly, the 20 Apr 1988 LAHExam reported that filmmakers Warren Beatty, David Brown, Milos Forman, and Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. all expressed interest in producing a film version. The 9 Jun 1988 DV also named Roman Polanski among the interested parties. However, production notes in AMPAS library files stated that stage producer David Geffen obtained rights through his company, Geffen Pictures, which had an existing production deal with Warner Bros. Pictures. Adapting his play for his feature screenwriting debut, Hwang completed the first draft of the script in late 1990. Once David Cronenberg joined the project as director, Hwang made edits that shifted focus from the politics of the story to the relationship between the lead characters.
       M. Butterfly reunited Cronenberg with actor Jeremy Irons, who previously starred in the director’s 1988 picture, Dead Ringers (see entry). More than sixty men tested for the character of “Song Liling,” which according to the 31 Jan 1992 HR, included Alec Mapa, who acted opposite Philip Anglim in the Los Angeles, CA, and national touring productions of the play. Although Mapa was set to meet with Cronenberg in early Feb 1992 to discuss the possibility of reprising his role onscreen, former Beijing Opera performer and actor John Lone was cast instead.
       Due to political unrest in mainland China, filmmakers spent six months negotiating permission to film in the country while concurrently preparing backup locations in the Special Administrative Region of Macao. Although the 28 Apr 1992 HR production chart listed a start date of 24 Aug 1992, the 17 Nov 1992 HR confirmed principal photography began 10 Sep 1992. Locations in Beijing, China, included the Qingle Theatre, the Moon Arch Bridge on Houhai Lake, and the Great Wall of China. For exterior scenes, 400 background actors rode bicycles and wore Zhongshan, or “Mao,” suits specially made in China for the film. Filmmakers also purchased a local man’s pedicab and sent it back to Toronto, Canada, where filming continued for an additional ten weeks. Production took place at an outdoor gravel pit, an unnamed studio soundstage, and inside the city’s Don Jail. Former Chinese Red Guards living in Toronto were hired to paint authentic propaganda banners and signs, while more than 500 members of the Chinese community were included in various scenes. The crew then moved to Budapest, Hungary, for filming at the Hungarian State Opera House, the Budapest City Hall Council Room, and a minimum security prison on the Slovakian border. Principal photography concluded in Paris, France.
       According to the 29 Apr 1992 DV, David Geffen planned to leave the entertainment business following the completion of production on M. Butterfly and Interview with the Vampire (1994, see entry). Instead, Geffen closed his production company to co-found DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg in 1994.
       The 12 Jul 1993 HR stated that M. Butterfly contained “the industry’s first completely digital feature film main title sequence,” created by Syzygy Digital Cinema, a division of Balsmeyer & Everett title design company.
       A 14 Sep 1993 HR article noted that the film received a mixed reception following its 9 Sep 1993 world premiere at Toronto’s Festival of Festivals. Theatrical release in Toronto, New York City, and Los Angeles was planned for 1 Oct 1993, with additional openings to follow on 8 and 15 Oct 1993. As reported by the 24 May 1994 LADN, actor John Lone was displeased with the final cut of the film, which allegedly removed twenty minutes of footage, including an extended version of the scene when “René Gallimard” first sees Lone’s character performing onstage. Reviews were generally negative, with several critics suggesting the reveal of Liling’s gender identity was made less effective after a similar storyline was depicted in the popular 1992 British film, The Crying Game.
      Opening credits are followed by the statement: “This film is based on a true story.” End credits note that David Henry Hwang’s original 1988 stage play, M. Butterfly, was “Produced on the stage by Stuart Ostrow and David Geffen and directed by John Dexter.” A dedication misspells the name of Geffen Pictures President David Bombyk, reading, “In memory of David Bombyck.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Jun 1988.
---
Daily Variety
29 Apr 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jan 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 1993
p. 9, 21.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 1993
p. 6, 34.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 1993
Section I, pp. 5-6.
LAHExam
20 Apr 1988.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
24 May 1994.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Oct 1993
Section F, p. 1, 6.
New York Times
1 Oct 1993
Section C, p. 3.
New York Times
27 Oct 2008.
---
Variety
14 Oct 1991.
---
Variety
20 Sep 1993
p. 26.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Geffen Pictures Presents
A David Cronenberg Film
A Geffen Pictures Release
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
Trainee asst dir
Trainee asst dir
Unit mgr, Far East unit
3d asst dir, Far East unit
Prod mgr, Budapest unit
Unit mgr, Budapest uni
Asst dir, Budapest unit
Asst dir, Budapest unit
Prod mgr, Paris unit
1st asst dir, Paris unit
2d asst dir, Paris unit
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Scr
Based on his play
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Cam trainee
Steadicam op
(Far East)
Steadicam op
(Budapest)
Video-asst op
Video-asst op
Gaffer
Best boy
Electrics
Electrics
Electrics
Electrics
Generator op
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Stills photog
Lenses and Panaflex cam
Grip & lighting
Toronto
Grip & lighting
Budapest
Grip & lighting
Far East
Elec, Far East unit
Grip, Far East unit
Gaffer, Budapest unit
Grip, Budapest unit
Clapper/Loader, Paris unit
Video-asst, Paris unit
Head grip, Paris unit
Grip, Paris unit
Cam car grip, Paris unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
1st asst art dir
2d asst art dir
3d asst art dir
Art dept coord, Far East unit
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
2d asst ed
Trainee asst ed
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Asst set dec
Asst set dec
Lead set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set buyer
Prop master
Asst prop master
Props buyer
Const coord
Head carpenter
Asst head carpenter
Asst head carpenter
Const bookkeeper
Props builder
Key scenic artist
Scenic artist
Asst set des, Budapest unit
Set dresser, Budapest unit
1st asst set dresser, Budapest unit
Prop master, Budapest unit
Asst propman, Budapest unit
Const mgr, Budapest unit
Firearms, Budapest unit
Dressing propman, Paris unit
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Cost supv for Mr. Lone
Ward asst
Cutter
Ward master, Budapest unit
Ward mistress, Paris unit
MUSIC
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mus preparation
Mus preparation
Scoring sessions rec at
London
Scoring sessions rec at
London
Mus scoring eng
Addl mus eng
Addl mus eng
Addl mus eng
Mus orch and cond by
Paris Opera "Madama Butterfly"
Cond by
Addl Puccini arias
Cond by
Performed by
Mus clearance by
on behalf of Sharon Boyle & Associates
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artist
Foley asst
Foley asst
Foley rec at
ADR, re-rec, processing
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd transfers
VISUAL EFFECTS
Main titles des and prod by
Computer graphics for main title seq by
End credits
Toronto
Spec eff, Budapest unit
DANCE
Beijing Opera choreog
Beijing Opera choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist for Mr. Lone
Hairstylist for Mr. Lone
Makeup artist for Mr. Irons
Hairstylist for Mr. Irons
Makeup artist
Makeup artist, Budapest unit
Hairstylist, Budapest unit
Makeup/Hairstylist, Paris unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Loc prod asst
Prod coord
Prod secy
Prod office asst
Prod office asst
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Asst to Ms. Martinelli
Asst to Ms. Martinelli
Asst to Mr. Cronenberg
Unit pub
Animal wrangler
Transportation coord
Driver capt
Head driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Extras casting
Casting consultant
(New York)
Casting consultant
(London)
French language consultant
Craftservice
Post-prod supv
Post-prod coord
Edge coding
Title seq artifacts
Title seq artifacts
Title seq artifacts
Far East liaison, Far East unit
Unit asst, Far East unit
Far Eas consultant, Far East unit
Prod asst, Far East unit
Interpreter, Far East unit
Interpreter, Far East unit
Interpreter, Far East unit
Prod services, Budapest unit
Head of prod, Budapest unit
Loc mgr, Budapest unit
Asst loc mgr, Budapest unit
Prod liaison, Budapest unit
Accountant, Budapest unit
In charge of customs, Budapest unit
Interpreter, Budapest unit
Interpreter, Budapest unit
Interpreter, Budapest unit
Prod secy, Budapest unit
Office secy, Budapest unit
Casting agent, Budapest unit
Extras coord, Budapest unit
Transport mgr, Budapest unit
Prod accountant, Paris unit
Unit loc mgr, Paris unit
Asst to the unit mgr, Paris unit
Prod coord, Paris unit
Prod runner, Paris unit
Extras casting, Paris unit
STAND INS
Stand-in for Mr. Irons
Stand-in for Mr. Lone
Stunt coord, Budapest unit
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang (New York, 20 Mar 1988).
SONGS
"Un Bel Di," from Madama Butterfly, composed by Giacomo Puccini, performed by Mirella Freni, conductor Herbert von Karajan, The Vienna Philharmonic, courtesy of Decca/London Records, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets
"Coro A Bocca Chiusa (The Humming Chorus)," from Madama Butterfly, composed by Giacomo Puccini, performed by the Vienna Opera Chorus, conductor Herbert von Karajan, The Vienna Philharmonic, courtesy of Decca/London Records, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets
"String Quintet In C Major," composed by Franz Schubert, performed by the Amadeus Quartet and Robert Cohen, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets
+
SONGS
"Un Bel Di," from Madama Butterfly, composed by Giacomo Puccini, performed by Mirella Freni, conductor Herbert von Karajan, The Vienna Philharmonic, courtesy of Decca/London Records, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets
"Coro A Bocca Chiusa (The Humming Chorus)," from Madama Butterfly, composed by Giacomo Puccini, performed by the Vienna Opera Chorus, conductor Herbert von Karajan, The Vienna Philharmonic, courtesy of Decca/London Records, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets
"String Quintet In C Major," composed by Franz Schubert, performed by the Amadeus Quartet and Robert Cohen, courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets
"Va Mon Ami Va," arranged by J. Sakel, performed by Nana Mouskouri, courtesy of Philips, by arrangement with Polygram Special Markets.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
15 October 1993
Premiere Information:
Toronto premiere: 9 September 1993
Los Angeles and New York openings: 1 October 1993
Production Date:
began 10 September 1992
Copyright Claimant:
Geffen Film Company
Copyright Date:
31 January 1994
Copyright Number:
PA686686
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

René Gallimard, an accountant working at the French Embassy in 1964, Beijing, China, attends a recital featuring excerpts from Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Although he is unfamiliar with the opera, he is enraptured by the story of a Japanese woman falling in love with an American sailor, and afterward approaches the lead singer, Song Liling, to compliment her performance. Song is not surprised by René’s connection to the story, and accuses him of fantasizing about the imperialist romance between a white man and an "Oriental" woman. René interprets the diva’s criticism as arrogance, but follows her advice to educate himself by attending her traditional Chinese song, dance, and acrobatic show at the Beijing Opera. Keeping his growing interest in Song a secret from his wife, René returns to the singer’s house and kisses her, seemingly unaware that female roles in Chinese opera are always played by men. At work, René’s colleagues scorn him for refusing to approve their expenditures on prostitutes, causing him to reevaluate his own infidelity and cut off all communication with Song for several weeks. René is praised for his vigilance and promoted to vice consul. René returns to Song’s house to share the news and asks her, “Are you my Butterfly?” She assents, but confesses she is a virgin and insists she retain her modesty by remaining clothed as she performs oral sex on him. René and French Ambassador Toulon begin providing intelligence to the American government, believing they will be able to coerce Vietnam into submission. As a secret spy for the People’s Republic of China, Song leads René to believe she is deeply ... +


René Gallimard, an accountant working at the French Embassy in 1964, Beijing, China, attends a recital featuring excerpts from Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Although he is unfamiliar with the opera, he is enraptured by the story of a Japanese woman falling in love with an American sailor, and afterward approaches the lead singer, Song Liling, to compliment her performance. Song is not surprised by René’s connection to the story, and accuses him of fantasizing about the imperialist romance between a white man and an "Oriental" woman. René interprets the diva’s criticism as arrogance, but follows her advice to educate himself by attending her traditional Chinese song, dance, and acrobatic show at the Beijing Opera. Keeping his growing interest in Song a secret from his wife, René returns to the singer’s house and kisses her, seemingly unaware that female roles in Chinese opera are always played by men. At work, René’s colleagues scorn him for refusing to approve their expenditures on prostitutes, causing him to reevaluate his own infidelity and cut off all communication with Song for several weeks. René is praised for his vigilance and promoted to vice consul. René returns to Song’s house to share the news and asks her, “Are you my Butterfly?” She assents, but confesses she is a virgin and insists she retain her modesty by remaining clothed as she performs oral sex on him. René and French Ambassador Toulon begin providing intelligence to the American government, believing they will be able to coerce Vietnam into submission. As a secret spy for the People’s Republic of China, Song leads René to believe she is deeply fascinated by Western culture, but reports her lover’s knowledge of American war strategy to Comrade Chin. After engaging in a tryst with an emotionally unavailable woman named Frau Baden, René drunkenly visits Song and orders her to take off her clothes. When René begins to move his hands under her gown, she distracts him by confessing she is pregnant. Claiming she will carry and deliver the child in her parents’ village and return once the baby is three months old, she reports to Comrade Chin and insists she be provided with an infant to maintain the charade. As Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong’s Red Guard moves to eject all diplomatic figures from China, Ambassador Toulon begins to doubt René’s judgment, suggesting he was misguided to think the Vietnamese would be susceptible to Western influence. When Song returns with a baby boy, René begs her to marry him and leave China. She refuses, noting that the Red Guard has declared all artists criminal enemies of the Communist revolution, and she will be arrested and sent away to a work camp. By 1968, René has divorced his wife and returned to Paris, France, where he lives alone in a small apartment decorated in Chinese fashion. After René attends a performance of Madama Butterfly one evening, Song appears on his doorstep, and they resume their relationship. Since moving back to Europe, René has lost his high-level contacts within the French government, and Song encourages him to get a job as a courier carrying sensitive documents, claiming that passing information to the Chinese is the only way they will be able to see their son again. Two years later, René is tried for treason, and Song is revealed as a man, dressed in a Western suit and tie. Song declares that he is unsure if René ever knew his true gender. Inside an armored van on the way to prison, Song removes his clothes. René reacts with disgust and rejects his former lover, declaring he “wasted” all those years on a man. As Song boards an airplane returning to China, René stages a performance for his fellow prison inmates, applying Beijing Opera makeup to his face and calling himself “Madame Butterfly,” before using the edge of his mirror to slit his own throat. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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