Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical Specs by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Malcolm McDowell,
David Wood, Richard Warwick
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2011
“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.”
I remember the first time I saw Pink Floyd The Wall and being floored by the music segment for “Another Brick in the Wall”, which was obviously making a statement about the abusive authority displayed by the teachers in an English school. After watching Lindsay Anderson’s If…., I am led to believe that this film may have served as something of an inspiration for the cinematic interpretation of the Floyd song.
Understandably controversial at the time of its release, If…. is one of the few films to depict an intense violent rebellion against those in higher power. Many of the themes it tackled were somewhat extreme as far as late 60s cinema was concerned. When it was made, it’s depiction of a violent school shooting that concludes the film was intended to make a social statement. In today’s climate, the film may strike a different chord in the aftermath of such tragedies as the Virginia Tech shootings, as well as Columbine.
Whatever the case, If…. is quite a bold and masterful piece of work. The film tries something a little neat that hasn’t been attempted since, which is having the movie appear in color with periodic sequences shot in black and white. As far as I can tell, there’s no real explanation for this visual gimmick, but I do give the film bonus points for trying something different.
In his first leading role that would no doubt lead to his breakout role in A Clockwork Orange, a remarkably young looking Malcolm McDowell stars as Mick Travis, one of several students who finds himself a victim of tormented abuse as a result of innocent rebellion against the rules at College House, an English public school. The abusive power comes by way of strict professors, the headmaster of the school, and even the appointed seniors better known as The Whips.
As a result of undergoing the abuse, Mick along with his friends Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warwick) slowly grow fascinated with the idea of rebelling at the system in a violent manner. Mick, in particular, comes to see violence as the only solution to ending abusive power. The three boys start even start to put up pictures of guerrilla fighters in their rooms and engage in rebellious thinking while listening to African chants.
At this point, the film begins to present itself as more of a demented fantasy being possibly played out in Mick’s mind. Maybe that’s what the black and white photography is supposed to signify, even though it the picture changes color throughout the film. One such case is a scene where Mick and his friends steal a motorcycle and venture to an empty café, where Mick then has a slight sexual encounter with the only female waitress, and individual, in the place.
I mentioned that the recent school shooting tragedies might strike a different reaction when watching this film today. However, the climatic and outrageous school shooting in If…. has long been debated as just a fantasy occurring inside Mick’s head. Whatever the purpose, the movie does end with one heck of a bang, for lack of a better word.
Challenging, engaging and laced with ideas in its social commentary, If…. is indeed a highlight of 60s cinema. In addition, it’s tackles themes that few films haven’t dared to even go near. Controversial during it’s release and possibly even more so today, If…. remains a film that demands every viewers’ attention.
It's never hard to find evidence for my argument that Criterion should be the ONLY studio to release important world cinema staples on Blu-ray. This had to be a difficult film to treat, blending both color and black and white cinematography, but Criterion brings out the best of both worlds in a high definition transfer that belies the film's over 40 year age. Some natural grain is inherent in the film stock here and there, but it's a natural occurrence and barely worth mentioning.
Though driven by spoken words, the uncompressed audio soundtrack delivers with clarity and crispness...no dialogue is lost or muffed, and the dynamic range does have some moments despite being a single-channel offering.
This is a wonderfully loaded Blu-ray from Criterion, that starts with a nice commentary with Malcolm McDowell and film critic/historian David Robinson. There is also a 2003 episode of the Scottish TV series “Cast and Crew” featuring McDowell, cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, assistant editor Ian Rakoff, assistant director Stephen Frears, producer Michael Medwin and screenwriter David Sherwin. Also included is brand new video interview with actor Graham Crowden, as well as Thursday's Children, an Academy Award-winning documentary directed by Lindsay Anderson and Guy Brenton and narrated by Richard Burton. Lastly, there’s a terrific booklet featuring pieces by critic David Ehrenstein, screenwriter David Sherwin, and director Lindsay Anderson.
What an experience! If…., which started out as a slap in the face for British cinema, has become a renowned cult favorite and it’s easy to see why. It remains an original piece of cinema to this day and Criterion has seen to it to deliver once again with a quality Blu-ray release.