07th Jun2014

‘If…’ Blu-ray Review (Masters of Cinema)

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Christine Noonan,  David Wood, Richard Warwick, Rupert Webster, Robert Swann, Hugh Thomas, Arthur Lowe | Written by David Sherwin | Directed by Lindsay Anderson


If…. is a satirical look at the public school system in the late 1960s but while there is a dark sense of humour in place there is also a scathing examination that seems all too real.  The system of privilege that is in place and the bullying culture feels not only to be a part of the school system, but society itself.  In fact the problems we have with politics to this day can be seen in If…. where these children in a boys only school are being moulded to take the top jobs in society, even as political leaders, being given a warped view on society and a perspective on life that many of the unprivileged (read that as the ‘normal people’) could never understand and I doubt would ever want to.

It’s in this world of privilege that we meet Mick Travis (McDowell) and his friends, outsiders to the strict nature of the school and seen as the more radical and out of control students who must be controlled, part of this is down to the fact they don’t control the length of their hair well enough.  The very first shot we see of Mick is an almost classical shot of an outlaw with scarf hiding the bottom of his face, his movements almost stealthy as he makes his way through the corridors.  This sets his character up well as one of the so-called Crusaders, fighting against the system.

The world of the public school is about privilege, control and tradition.  Bullying is rife and the younger boys are expected to be almost slaves to the older boys who have earned their place by doing exactly what the other children do for them.  It is a system that has been around for years and even to complain is out-of-place, who would listen? Not the parents.  There is also an even darker tone with abuse of the younger students seemingly taking place, not only by the students themselves but also the teachers.  It is a system that is in need of a change, a revolution perhaps.

In some ways the revolution that builds up in If…. could be compared to events like Columbine in our modern society, but in this is taking the events of the movie way too literally.  The clues that the finale is more symbolic of a class war than outright violence.  A hint of this is the inclusion of The Girl (Noonan).  To Mick and his friends she is symbolic of freedom away from the strict and rigid force of the school system they are trapped in.  They are pushed down with any hint of a rebellious nature being crushed by corporal punishment, it is expected that the students must conform.  The Girl’s appearances though, especially the unexpected ones within the school where she appears to just materialise out of thin are catalysts to push the boys to action.  This is the strength of If…. as an examination of the society the boys are a part of.  The Crusaders won’t be stopped in their battle to fight against the oppression of the so called “Whips” (the older boys who are given authority) and the appearance of The Girl in the boys only school is the representation of the freedom that has to be restrained at all costs.  The very fact that we have the Crusaders and Whips show the battle that is taking place.

If…. is a film that fights against conformism even in the film sense.  The way the film itself flits between monochrome and colour gives it that anarchic feel and actually gives it an added feel of life, never letting the audience get used to the normalities of structured film making.  Dave Sherwin and John Howlett create a story that for the time it was filmed was controversial, thankfully it never backs down from the message it fights to give, and Lindsay Anderson’s direction really makes for something surprisingly special.  I will say though as a fan of Malcolm McDowell it is he who steals the spotlight of the film, and with this being his first real movie role it really highlights what an impressive actor he would become.  Another excellent Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release by Eureka, If…. is a film that is a must see, or if seen it in the past one that should be revisited as soon as possible.

If…. is released on Blu-ray on June 9th.

***** 5/5

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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