Sunday, August 17, 2008

#49: If. . .


If. . .
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Written by David Sherwin and John Howlett
Released December 19, 1968 (UK), March 9, 1969 (USA)

"One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place."

Maybe I needed to be British to "get" If..... Or maybe I had to be growing up in the late '60s. Maybe I need a more nuanced understanding of the English class system of the era. Maybe I need to be 10 years older, or more likely 10 years younger.

If.... is a really well made (fine acting, great use of color, great set decoration, a stunningly beautiful transfer that probably looks better than it even did on screen) -- yet not exceptionally good -- movie. It wants to be a satire, but it lacks the sense of humor or storytelling focus to pull off making any type of grand statements. At best, the movie is a revenge fantasy, with an emphasis on fantasy.

The story involves three nonconformist boys, including Malcolm McDowell in his first film role, at a strict-to-the-point-of-fascism private school. Gradually, they are given harsher punishments for their behavior, and make a pact to rebel. As the film progresses, things get more surreal and dreamlike, making it harder to follow and even more difficult to understand if any of this is actually happening, or if this has all become McDowell's daydream.

A key scene which really begins the blurring of reality -- and one of the better scenes in the movie -- involves McDowell's Mick Travis stealing a motorcycle and riding off into a nearby town with a friend. They enter a seemingly abandoned cafe, and McDowell has a bizarre sexually charged (and most likely imagined) moment with the girl running the counter. She appears in later scenes, including the violent finale, possibly to signify that what you're seeing is not really happening.

Another confusing aspect of the film is use of black and white and color film. There is seemingly no reason for choosing one over the other in different scenes (and listening to the commentary track proves this theory correct). The effect of switching between the two becomes somewhat annoying once you realize there is no modus operandi behind it.

Thinking of the finale, I must admit that I can see how it was controversial, and would be probably even more controversial if used in an American film today. I'm afraid, however, that a massive school shoot-out would not have the same countercultural relevance in our country, but more of an antisocial, deplorably exploitative vibe. But then, we've been shooting our schools up for years.

For more on If. . .:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- Buy the Criterion DVD

The cafe scene from If.... (be forewarned, there is a brief bit of nudity here):


Adam said...

Damn, young Malcolm McDowell looks a hell of a lot like Jeff Tweedy...

Dylan Gaughan said...


If they needed a Tweedy, they need look no further than Patrick Fugit (the kid from "Almost Famous"). I just caught him in something recent (and not very good) and he looked EXACTLY like JT.