I had never heard of this movie before but it was on Film4 last night and I watched it on a whim because it stars Malcolm McDowell and I enjoyed his performances in A Clockwork Orange and Caligula.
The movie is about a trio of friends who are in the 6th form at a boys boarding school, one of who is having a relationship with a younger boy and another who becomes increasingly fixated on guns and rebellion.
Parts of the film are realistic and seem like an ordinary boys school in the 60's but other parts of the movie are very strange and surreal such as random scenes shot in black and white, the bizzare dog-like fight involving a girl in a cafe, and of course the ending, which I found quite powerful because I wasn't expecting it at all.
Deffinatly agree with it being in Film4's "Movies to see before you die" series. I'm certainly glad I didn't miss it.
on 18 February 2006
I don't wish to repeat the great comments by the other reviewers here, they've said it all.Just want to add, in a small way, that I am jealous of anyone who hasn't seen "If.." yet.That's because the new viewer is in for the treat of their lives.
This is surreal,stark, funny, sad and uplifting.Stars so many favourite actors of the late 60's and 70's(Arthur Lowe, Graham Crowden,Peter Jeffrey) but it's the trio of Malcolm McDowell,Richard Warwick and David Wood who make the movie. A complete joy,a film I always return to.DVD now please!
One of my all time favourites, and long overdue (as is O Lucky Man) for a DVD release. The DVD transfer looks great, but it's a pity the same can't be said for the sound which is Mono and rather flat. Some good extras including a Commentary from Malcolm McDowell and David Robinson, a BBC 45 minute special talking to screenwriter, assistant director, cinematographer, producer etc. The inclusion of Lindsay Anderson's 1954 Academy Award winning short Thursdays Child is a bit of an odd addition, perhaps a documentary on Anderson himself would have been more appropriate?? But nevermind, its the film that really counts, and it's brilliant! I was at boarding school myself when this was first released in 1969, and I didn't get to see it until it was shown on TV in the mid seventies. Aside from the surrealistic side, the portrayal of life in an all boys public school was pretty much spot on. I guess Travis just got to do what mosy of us would have liked to do! Malcolm McDowell is superb as Travis, what a pity such a talented actor is now usually seen in cameos on TV, or playing nutters in so-so low budget movies. Still, beats working for a living I suppose. If you haven't seen it, buy it. If you have seen it you will no doubt have already purchased. Now can we have O Lucky Man....PLEASE!!??
Dull Protestant hymns, along with a call to save the country, for it was forever in peril, along with a demand for a personal sacrifice...the memories of the old school flood back in a tsunami of ennui. There is not enough anger to pick up a summons let along a weapon.
In this film it was the 1960's stretching into the 1970's public school. A Latin curriculum, to separate the chaps from the oiks. Discipline handed over to the Kapo. Here the former brutalised could enact a pyramid scheme of thrashings. Within the beatings were the homosexualised pangs erupting from the boils of the prefects. Pedophilia was institutionalised. They found their lovers in the younger boys who were separated from their families, teachers. This begins to explain what happened to them as adults - moral cripples, alcohol, suicide, inept relationships and without thinking sending their children off too.
Meanwhile the institutions were headed by staff members who were so far out to lunch they could be classified by their own DSM label. For them the erraticisms which were left unsaid as an erotic pulse pounded throughout. Here the whole era is encapsulated by the film.
Absence of confidentiality, stolen moments, an avid intent to squash any form of dissent, the film only touches upon the pressure forever placed with full muscular endowment, a push downwards to ensure full compliance with the promise of the final reward - a place in the sun to wield the cane when you knew you had finally arrived. All was forgiven, and then you can take the lessons out into the wider world and apply them.
Public schools were built by old boys who found an attachment after being abandoned by their parents to the full stretch of the institution - people replete with full amnesia. Each dutifully returned with pristine golden memories as they filled themselves with collective amnesia. Life must have been bad post school if this is heaven. As they returned they rebuilt the institutions they abhorred whilst they were there. But they realised when they left, the external world offered them so little in comparison. So the eternal return was set for these school to channel the upper classes into a form of social autism. Within these walls relationships were seen as suspect and friendship leading to the dark side.
The film captures the isolation of those who aspired.
Meanwhile the song of Sanctus brings out the dream that another world exists parallel to this one. The final attack on all that is held sacred is no longer an expression of an existentialist call for freedom, instead it is culled from a gaping vision that nothing exists to redeem it.
Houses competing, amateur soldier activities conditioning the boys for another big one, the film operates as a warning that was unheeded because the roles that are played as perceived as aspirational so this film is a curio, a giggle and perhaps something to be ignored. But it still trundles on as an aspiration even though this film provided a warning. In fact in a fit of autism the mass populace voted them into power, despite this film.
Five stars with reservations. If you have the Criterion double dvd the picture and sound quality (when upscaled) are just about the same on this blu ray. I watched this Masters of Cinema edition on 100' projection. The picture is sharper but colours and grain are virtually the same. Having said that, of course, the Criterion disc is extremely high quality. In theory the audio of the blu ray is stereo but in practice it is still the mono soundtrack across two front speakers. The subtitles and screen text are pin sharp. I do not know if the blu ray version of the Criterion dvd is significantly better.
As for the movie itself, it is both wondrous and wonderful. Having recently experienced the full might of the Justice system being perversely abused I fully engaged in Mick Travis and his friends' stunning revolt against hypocrisy and the vile depravity of the ruling class. "You look after the House and the House will look after you" offers the Headmaster. License to make documents go 'missing.'
If you are interested in the Extras on this one disc release I noted that the Menu stated that the interviews were carried out between February and March 2014.
on 29 September 2014
This is, and will probably remain, my favourite film of all time.
When this film first came out I had just left a boys only school and was into motorbikes. The film content struck a chord with me at the time, and on every occasion that I have seen the film since, so I had to have my own copy. I had been a member of the Combined Cadet Force at school and was well versed in firing the Lee Enfield .303 rifles and the Bren machine gun seen in the film, and could recognise the characters from my real life. The school rules, the escape on a motorcycle, the rebellion; all things that echoed in my mind. All the things I never did, but what If....
If... is the first part in a loose trilogy based around the central character of Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), the subsequent parts being O!Lucky Man & Britannia Hospital. Written by David Sherwin, it was initially titled 'Crusaders' & takes its influence from Jean Vigo's classic surreal short Zero de Conduite (1933). Director Lindsay Anderson was a key figure in the British New Wave- which took it's cue from the Nouvelle Vague & itself would influence directors in the New German Cinema (such as RW Fassbinder). Anderson, as Godard & Truffaut, moved from film criticism to making his own films- such as the brilliant This Sporting Life (1963). Here he moves back to his alma mater, Cheltenham Boys College- though it could be any institution...
The film centres on episodes, which exist sometimes in a form of reality & drift otherwise into a surreal fantasy, each builds towards the denoument which sits well next to the 1968 riots in Paris (If...managed to capture the zeitgeist- see also the Civil Rights riots in the States or the predominantly middle class anti-war protestors both sides of the Atlantic). If... drifts from colour to monochrome- taking its cue from Godard & influencing later works such as Natural Born Killers & Nixon. It was widely reported that this was due to budget considerations, and it is hard to mould a theory of why each colour is used. As in Nixon (1995) it shifts film stock son frequently, there is no definite grammar as to what each represents- I just think it heightens the surreality & reverses what is fantasy & reality (we aren't sure if any of this is occurring- especially if we bear in mind the following films). A classic scene that demonstrates this is the episode where Mick & friend steal a motorbike & go out to a cafe in the middle of nowhere, where they meet the mysterious girl (Christine Noonan)- where we shift between (at least) three different conceptions of this situations (strangers? lovers? friends?) accompanied by the recurrent African music- which just happens to be on the jukebox. The girl recurs later as, perhaps the headmaster's daughter- she is seen gazing out of a window through a telescope. It is unclear- which is the joy of this film...
If... was certainly of great influence- Stanley Kubrick was a big fan & casted Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange as a result (also the 'war face'part here can be seen in Kubrick's later dark masterpiece Full Metal Jacket). The cast are fantastic- made more surreal by the appearance of sitcom regulars like Arthur Lowe, Graham Crowden & Robin Askwith. It is notable that Stephen Frears worked on this in a technical capacity, similar to Nic Roeg's camerawork on films like Fahrenheit 451 that lead to moving towards their own directing films...
If... is a perfect film, it makes complete sense when viewed next to other works of the time that exhibit a blend of Brecht & Kafka- such as Godard's Weekend (also 1968), Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970),Pasolini's Teorema (1968) ,Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1966) & Costa Gavras' Z (1968)- which all exhibit revolt & end in destruction (and I take a previous review that mentions The Prisoner, The Singing Detective is similarly shifting through the surreal- between fantasy & reality).
If... is one of my favourite films, and a contender for one of the best British films ever made- easily ranking next to A Clockwork Orange, Performance & Blow Up. A timeless allegory that is compounded by the culture surrounding incidents like Columbine & Dunblane. If only British cinema could be this daring again...
As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of Lindsay Anderson's incendiary 1968 'bucking-the-system' classic. And the BLU RAY is available in both the States and the UK. But which issue to buy?
Unfortunately the uber-desirable USA Criterion release is REGION-A LOCKED although it doesn't say so on Amazon.
So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.
Luckily the "Masters Of Cinema" release on this side of the pond (which boasts the same cleaned up transfer) is REGION FREE – so that will play on UK machines.
Check you’re purchasing the right version before you buy the pricey Criterion release...
on 26 March 2009
Anderson's "If" reeks of the 1960s-the anti-authoritarianism,the readiness of militants to use violence,a strange,dream-like storyline.It hasn't aged well,as the optimism of the 1960s,especially the variety interested in social change and influenced by the events in Paris,Prague and Berkeley vanished pretty quickly.
For all that,it's funny,very well made,well acted(British viewers will recognise many stalwarts of British TV)and has great music-you won't be able to get "Missa Luba" out of your mind after watching this
on 1 August 2005
Like the other reviewers, I think this is a great film, and I'm astonished it has never come out on DVD. I check the new releases every week, in hope...
The story is great. As someone who went to grammar school in the 60s, I relate to the oppressive, bullying atmosphere of a prefect-patrolled school, with Rugby and CCF used as instruments of power. Fortunately, we didn't board and we didn't have fagging.
We understood why boys MIGHT go crazy and start a revolution, but the system was designed to keep control, so we never did. But you can still imagine, with a degree of pleasure - what if...