It’s hard to really start to talk about a film such as If…(1968) there is so much to process. First it’s a product of it’s time, even if director Lindsay Anderson denies it was in reaction to all the political activity happening at the time. I can see there is a clear class war going on in the film as 3 6th formers fight against a dying institution which is the private school system and the upper-class. It also feels late in the day, the sixties known for being a decade of cultural revolution that saw the younger generation breaking free from the post war blues that left this country financially crippled, and by another generation who stifled free expression, the very thing that was fought for.
Maybe this is literally the last battle ground in the U.K. to fight for the freedoms of the baby boomers who had new ideas, as they grow up into adulthood have a burning need to be heard and respected. Even in the elite that seems to be a need to fight back against the lore of the establishment. Especially for Mick (Malcolm McDowell, Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warick) who take every opportunity to rebel against the house whips Rowetree (Robert Swann), Denson (Hugh Thomas), Fortinbas (Michael Cadman) and Barnes (Peter Sproule) who are the face of the past, only a few years older than the 6th formers, laying down the iron rod of the law, going to daft extremes with the power they possess. Discipline is very important for these four whips, without it they would be lost in the modern world that is changing before their eyes.
For me the most compelling element is the choice to jump between black and white and colour photography, which took sometime to really understand why the changes, until a church scene that was black and white in full apart for a final cut in glistening colour looking up at a stain-glass window. The contrast between real-life of the masses, which could be seen as lower or middle class in dull and photographically beatiful black and white, we see the essential images. Whist the colour scenes depicted another way of life in decline, holding onto all the trapping and exuberance.
As the film went on, the chapters unfolded, a war was bubbling under the surface between the 6th formers/Crusaders against the rest of the school and their ways. From all out apathy and rebellion to all out war to a way of life that threatened their very own. It becomes utter chaos in the final scenes when it all comes together for minutes of glorious warfare on the battlefield of the upper-class and private education rooted so deep in the past, it is scared of the present.
For McDowell’s début film he is very much setting the tone of his work for future films, the rebellious young man who fights back with his mouth like Micheal Caine and going further with incredible actions that light up the screen. A darkly comedic film that sees the past as something alien and to poke fun at, taking it to the extremes with incredible consequences. The public school system still rules, if we look at the houses of parliament, but no longer are they as well respected, more mocked and sneered at for the privileges that raise them above the masses who make do and hold the state school system in high regard. It creates a class system that is no longer really relevant, a divide that keeps the highest paid jobs from those who are most deprived, skills, knowledge and sheer hardwork sometimes fail in the face of connections and wealth. A fact of life that will long remain I regret. At least now we can laugh at those who look down on us at their weakness as we started to in If…
- If……….(1968) (filmposterart.wordpress.com)
- if…. (1968): “Violence and revolution are the only pure acts.” (filmgrimoire.wordpress.com)
- Malcolm McDowell (drncolleen.wordpress.com)
- Baby boomer generation fast facts (boomercafe.com)