Sunday, May 18, 2008

Not another pantheon movie! IF....

The thing I hate about you, Rowntree, is the way you give Coca-Cola to your scum, and your best teddy bear to Oxfam, and expect us to lick your frigid fingers for the rest of your frigid life.The tag-line for Lindsay Anderson's radical 1968 movie, IF.... was "which side will you be on?". Not such an easy question. At first glance, you have to back to the brave, radicalised boys at this minor British public school. It's the era of revolutionary politics, free love and genius pop music, but the establishment still educates in children in boarding schools. The uniforms, language and rules are draconian and they are enforced with brutal enjoyment by the self-elected elite of the school - the prefects. In ANOTHER COUNTRY, set in the 1920s, the students react to this oppression by becoming Communist spies and playing a long game against the establishment. In Anderson's IF...., the boys react by staging an anarchist revolution against the school.

Much has been made of the fact that the movie seems implausible (unkind) and surreal (kind) in its second half. Anderson encourages the feeling of unreality by indulging in a disorienting random switching from colour film to black and white - and one of the most impressive, imaginative sex scenes in cinema history. But private schools often do have armouries, and students, albeit university students, were staging armed sit-ins that year, especially in Paris.

Moreover, the raw emotion that Anderson portrays - the feeling that authority is random, unfair and unrelenting - is something we can all relate to and quite real. I doubt anyone can sit through the scene where a young Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) is caned and not wince with pain, yes, but defiance too.

What else is there to love? The brilliant use of the Missa Lubis to underscore the savagery at the heart of the establishment. David Sherwin and John Howlett's intelligent, beautifully phrased script. Malcolm McDowell's iconic screen entrance. The damning indictment of all that was ossified and unjust in the British class system....

The only thing that might make us uneasy is the presentation of violence as a solution. When the school-boy revolutionary says "There's no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts" we can't but help be reminded of modern terrorism. But the provocative stance of the film makes it all the more relevant and powerful.

IF....opened in 1968 and played Cannes 1969. It won the Palme d'Or, beating competition from THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE and EASY RIDER. It is available on DVD.

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