6 June 2014

Blu-ray Review - If…. (1968, Masters Of Cinema)


Genre:
Drama
Distributor:
Masters Of Cinema, Eureka!
BD Release Date:
9th June 2014 (UK)
Rating: 15
Running Time:
116 Minutes
Director:
Lindsay Anderson
Cast:
Malcom McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick
Buy:If.... (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] [1968]

Lindsay Anderson made his name with the free cinema movement of the mid-1950s, which made documentaries, and the film This Sporting Life. The latter was one of the pinnacles of the angry young man genre of the early 60s, which bled into the kitchen sink dramas of the time. Anderson would, however, become iconic with his next film, If…. – which remains one of the best films to come out of the 1960s and for that matter, one of the best ever to come out of Britain.

Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) plays a sixth-former in a public school who is a non-conformist in every way, from the moustache he sports in his entrance to his taste in African music to his overall attitude. Travis has two friends, Wallace and Johnny, who are continually watched and bullied by “The Whips” (a type of prefect). They plan their revenge on the school after a brutal canning.

If…. was partly inspired by Jean Vigo’s short film Zéro de Conduit, which similarly has a group of boys taking over their school. Both films are anarchistic in spirit. The script for If…., however, had many alterations from the initial draft, known as The Crusaders, which at one point drew interest from Nicholas Ray of all people. Lindsay Anderson got involved years after this, and after agreeing to make the film it was shot at his own public school. This wasn’t revealed till after the shoot to his cast and crew, however.

The film has a surrealistic touch, which is partly due to the writer’s influences of Luis Bunũel and Jean Vigo. It also was partly Godard inspired after the writers dragged Lindsay Anderson to watch some of Godard’s films, like Pierrot Le Fou. The biggest surrealistic touch was mostly just financial: for the scene when Travis and his friends find the guns, it was cheaper to shoot black and white so Anderson did so and then shot more black and white scenes to make it gel better with the whole film.

Malcolm McDowell gives his first ironic role as smirking and smarmy Mick Travis. This was a few years before his role as Alex in A Clockwork Orange and it was also his debut film role. Kubrick actually gave him the later role after watching him act in If…. and more specifically the way he smiles after he is caned. McDowell, sadly, never surpassed to these two iconic performances, and has since ended up doing lots of character work in B-movies with widening degrees of success. That said, how could you live up to the promise of those two roles?

The film ended up being one of the most unlikely films to have sequels, first with the brilliant O Lucky Man! and later with the disappointing Britannia Hospital. McDowell reprised his role as Mick Travis in both films. The three are linked only by the shared main character, without other references to the original, with the three better thought of as a trilogy than a literal series. Anderson and McDowell at one point planned to make a direct sequel to If…. but it never happened due to Anderson’s death in 1994.

The film still remains daring, because unlike so many “school shooting” films it actually proposes the nihilistic idea that it might actually be productive to shoot up your school. For years the film for years was very hard to get on DVD, that may be down to Paramount considering it too dangerous for wide consumption in a post-Columbine world. It wasn’t till Criterion released it in 2007 that I ever saw it in widescreen, having only viewed a bootleg DVD that my dad had.

Masters of Cinema has finally released If…. on Blu-ray in the UK. It includes the old commentary with McDowell, some short films from Lindsay Anderson, and a collection of both short and long interviews with varying members of cast and crew filmed exclusively for this release.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz


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