FILM CLUB- "If..."

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FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Write Profile » 18 Dec 2008, 09:56

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Preface: This post isn't a proper review but rather a series of scattered impressions, hacked out without really trying to put them together. I'll talk more specifically about certain scenes, performances etc once the discussion gets going.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling


It's necessary to preface any discussion of Lindsay Anderson's messy, vital 1968 classic If... with Kipling's poem. When Anderson chose the title for the film, he knew exactly what it would conjure up- it's arguably one of the most recognised and quoted pieces in the English language. But it's also a defence and evocation of everything this film stands against, in its strident affirmation of "duty", "honour" and "manhood." These are the things that the film sets to challenge, or at least, in the final frame, shoot to pieces (but we'll get to that ending later).

For what we witness at the (unnamed) prestigous private school is a closed society built on savage heirachies, suffocating "tradition", ritualised bullying and an indoctrinated and totally unearned sense of superiority that builds not so much upstanding young men as unthinking drones (the latter represented in a number of bitingly comic vingettes, not least when one of the stuffy prefects orders his fellow pupils to "cheer loudly for their team"). Anderson, in other words, sets up his targets easily, to such a degree that would only take one rogue force to tear them all down.

That rogue force, is, of course, Mick Travis. As played by Malcom McDowell, he's one of the most memorable teenage rebels in cinema history. And right from the opening shot of him, where he arrives dressed like a revolutionary from Dostoevsky's Possessed, the audience cottons on to exactly the game is playing at. Yet if this was merely a film about one boy who tries to buck the system, I don't think it would be discussed or seen today as anything other than a curio, a hangover from the Angry Young Men movement that occured earlier that decade.

What makes the film so fascinating, for me anyway, is the fact that many of its strengths are also its flaws. I won't go into a detailed plot summary, but instead I'll try and gather together some impressions of the film and what it means -if indeed, it means anything at all.

Firstly, let me say that it's a liberating film, precisely because it doesn't seem to know which direction it's pulling in. Several of the bullying scenes, and indeed even the scenes in class, are shot with a harsh, unblinking eye, zeroing in on the surroundings and the oppression. And yet even in those sequences, it seems far too busy to be in line with the Ken Loach school of "social realism". And this is even before we encounter the moments of outright surrealism, whether it be the school parisoner which is brought out of the chest of drawers or the over-sexed matron who frolics around the pupils' bedrooms naked when they're not around. No, it's the fact that it seems pitched at an absurdly high level, even in its depiction of the mundane. Anderson, of course, arbitraily switches between b&w and colour stock- or is it arbitrary? I wonder whether it's a mean to deliberately jolt the viewer at any given point, to remind them that what's happening onscreen could just as much be someone's fevered perception, rather than what's actually going on.

But even more jarring is the way the pupils are caractitured. Yes, many of them are stock types, but what's fascinating is that Anderson pretty much goes out and says that much of the bullying stems from (and is accentuated by) barely suppressed homoeroticism. There's that awful scene where the prefects discuss the "lush" new boys (awful precisely because it's built on malice), but that's juxtaposed with the astonishing sequence of the beestung-lipped young pupil oggling a senior in gym class (and this is astonishing precisely because it's so fervent and feverish). Indeed, perhaps what Anderson understands most about adolescence is how sex comes into play, virtually everywhere. And I've never seen it treated more strangely in a film (ostensibly) featuring teenagers. When Mick (and some of his "revolutionary" pupils) encounter a girl (the buxom Christine Noonan) at a teahouse, a rather obvious come-on soon becomes, literally, a display of animalistic fervour, as Mick and the girl, roar, roll around and rip each other's clothes off like tigers. I think that gets to the point better than a dozen tentative "teen sex" comedies.

Those who've seen the film might notice that I've jumped around in describing the picture, because (without watching it as I type this) that's how it feels in my mind. Even allowing for the fact that tyhe film actually follows the structure of a school year, down to "chapter headings", there's something almost deliberately shambolic about it all.

An assortment of scattered scenes, veering from the brutal to the surreal and held together by the fact that McDowell's Travis seems to be the only one who knows what it's all about. Yes, he really doesn't develop his vision beyond agitprop sloganeering, but maybe that's the point. Throughout the film, there's an insolent loucheness to his performance, even his insults seemed to be delivered out of the corner of his mouth, as if he's surprised how far he pushes things just by existing. He doesn't need to be a force of nature to upset the system, he just needs to be there.

Which leads me into the final segment of the picture. Religion and the pompousness of authority, the film's two most frequent targets, come together at a school's year-end service, where a General Major Oldboy gives an absurdly moralising reactionary speech to the pupils (and their parents) that could've been cribbed from a Daily Telegraph editorial. We'd already seen the young rebels prepare for mock battle in some daft school excercise, so it's not surprising when they do eventually open fire on the school near the end. I mean, even if your targets are obvious, you still have to fuckin' shoot them.

And yet...at this point I lose track of who the film blames for all this. By shooting at both the other pupils, as well as the schoolmasters, they seem to suggest that they're all as bad as oneanother. Indeed, no one really offers a solution as to how to break the system, and I think, in the end, there's a sense that the film shouts a defiant "NO!" to everyone, and importantly, to every single sentiment, good or ill-advised, expressed in the Kipling poem. Pauline Kael felt the ending was akin to prisoners staging a jailbreak by killing the inmates and the guards, and she seems to have a point there. We're really not offered much in the way of release, and the film's attitude towards most of the youth is as contemptuous and full of bile as it towards the sanctimonious, hypocritical schoolmasters. Where does that leave us?

Well, I guess it leaves us with a film that seems to realise that statements can only get us so far, and maybe it isn't cinema's role to necessarily offer us solutions. Moreover, I don't think I've been able to get accross how funny a lot of the film is, whether it's Mick Travis's acidic quips or the bizarre framing or blackly comic ironies of behaviour throughout. Which brings me back to the title- I think the elipses (the "..." things) are significant in another sense. This is a film that knows it could've been so different. Which makes it a perfect film for 1968 film, too- and all that year signifies. "Stand up!" the film orders "we'll work out the rest later..."

Your thoughts, if you have any, would be nice, please....
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby James R » 18 Dec 2008, 14:09

Brilliant, now I have to dig the fucking thing out from wherever Mum put it when she was tidying up the back room the other day :x
Haven't seen this in ages; got it on DVD as soon as it appeared but haven't watched it yet (similarly, I picked up the "sequel" O Lucky Man a few weeks ago but haven't watched that either). But I do recall it being a very good film, I saw it years ago at Cinematheque and was very favourably impressed by it. Once I've found where Mum's put it, I'll watch it and post some more useful comments.

Of course, the two most striking features are:

1) the repeated shifts from b/w to colour, which I recall Anderson saying was just because money was running low near the end of production so the scenes shot later had to be done in b/w rather than because there was supposed to be any symbolism involved; and
2) THAT ending, copped from Vigo's Zero de conduite. Just wondering who here has seen that film (which I love) and what they make of Anderson's co-opting of it.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Matt Wilson » 18 Dec 2008, 17:41

I like your review better than the film.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Modernist » 18 Dec 2008, 23:04

I've just lost a massive post..God knows what I did! :(

Okay I'll try to summarise a few thoughts before reading others responses:

Although I've seen the film many times before, I still found the ending quite brilliant. It works on two, and in some ways contradictory, levels. Firstly as an exhilarating finale bringing the fightback that we've wished for the entire film, and within the context of the times it does comes across as a call to arms. Of course in getting excited at the machine gunning of the establishment, we get implicated as well. We become like the characters in the film getting off on revolutionary fantasies. And this raises the second way this ending functions, that of a cynical, and ultimately defeatist, commentary on bourgeois revolution. After it is all fantasy.

I also thought the shooting of the headmaster still retained its power. He's an interesting character, superficially he is the most sympathetic of the characters representing the school and yet his pseudo liberal bluster is the most pernicious because he uses it to uphold the most oppressive values. It is also significant that he is shot by 'the girl' (and also the film's only working class character), who is deliberately marginalised from the film, not even being humanised by a name, and yet with this act she claims power (and on a sidenote what a strong presence Christine Noonan had, it's a shame she wasn't in more films..she has a few brief scenes in O Lucky Man as well).

I was also struck by how unremitting the first half of the film is. This is where Anderson's background as a documentarian really comes through. There is a remorseless detailing of the hierarchy and its dehumanising effects. The film changes tone and pace with Mick's liberating journey into town. From this point on the film meshes fantasy with the realistic diegesis of the narrative to the point where we can no longer tell what is true and what is not, for example the stealing of the motorbike and sexual encounter with the girl come across as more adolescent fantasy than anything else. Similarly the film moves from a grimly absurdist observation to downright surrealism (the vicar in the drawer!). And as a viewer I found myself liberated by all this as the institution is not just documented but belittled.

Finally I know Anderson liked to dismiss the colour/b&w thing as an economic necessity, but I've never entirely bought this. The way it used is somehow too knowing in the way it jolts the viewer from the comfort of watching "the film", it seems a classic example of a Brechtian distancing device. And there are others, for example the casting of actors obviously in their late twenties to play teenagers. I don't think this is a film that wants the audience to get too comfortable or empathetic in relation to what they see, it's always pulling us back to force us to question what we feel about it.
Finally a word about MacDowell. He really was an electrifying presence for a brief period in British cinema, no one else quite did that fallen angel malovelence like him.

Not an easy film, but an exciting and inspiring one. Looking forward to further discussion.

The Modernist

Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Modernist » 18 Dec 2008, 23:20

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:And yet...at this point I lose track of who the film blames for all this. By shooting at both the other pupils, as well as the schoolmasters, they seem to suggest that they're all as bad as oneanother. Indeed, no one really offers a solution as to how to break the system, and I think, in the end, there's a sense that the film shouts a defiant "NO!" to everyone, and importantly, to every single sentiment, good or ill-advised, expressed in the Kipling poem. Pauline Kael felt the ending was akin to prisoners staging a jailbreak by killing the inmates and the guards, and she seems to have a point there. We're really not offered much in the way of release, and the film's attitude towards most of the youth is as contemptuous and full of bile as it towards the sanctimonious, hypocritical schoolmasters. Where does that leave us?

Well, I guess it leaves us with a film that seems to realise that statements can only get us so far, and maybe it isn't cinema's role to necessarily offer us solutions.


Yes the ending is deliberately problematic.
As cinema it is exciting precisely because it is so anarchic and infact nihlistic. It appeals to a "kick down the statues" sense of anger which becomes liberating (and in that I did find a lot of release in it). Actually it's not so different from a Sex Pistols single in this respect both in intent and in the feelings it arouses. And I think a more intellectual or at least thinking ending would have lacked this raw impact. However you never feel the film is preaching to you, thankfully, it keeps quite a jaundiced detachment from its "rebels" and that last close up of MacDowell seems a study in fevered futility more than anything else.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Jeemo » 18 Dec 2008, 23:40

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The guy on the left is Brian Pettifer. Who was in all If, O Lucky Man and Britania Hospital. I saw in the local Marks and Spencers last week, He looked at me and from his look, I could tell that he knew that I knew him from either the telly/cinema and he turned on his heels. I should have shouted after him that I had sold him some records about 28 years ago. :ugeek:
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Write Profile » 19 Dec 2008, 06:32

Cheers for your reply, G!

Dr Modernist wrote:Although I've seen the film many times before, I still found the ending quite brilliant. It works on two, and in some ways contradictory, levels. Firstly as an exhilarating finale bringing the fightback that we've wished for the entire film, and within the context of the times it does comes across as a call to arms. Of course in getting excited at the machine gunning of the establishment, we get implicated as well. We become like the characters in the film getting off on revolutionary fantasies. And this raises the second way this ending functions, that of a cynical, and ultimately defeatist, commentary on bourgeois revolution. After it is all fantasy.


I think that's a very good point- the film really couldn't've concluded in any other fahion, and in many ways, it had been signposted right from the very first time we encounter Mick Travis. He's a complete hazard to the order because he's so aware that he's a hazard. He's the only character in the whole film who not only realises he's playing a role, but relishes it (the prefects merely feel they're fulfilling their duty). And yet, as you say, it's hard to know how much of this we should take at face value because it's clear much of the film is filtered through the heightened, feverish imagination of its protagonist.
I also thought the shooting of the headmaster still retained its power. He's an interesting character, superficially he is the most sympathetic of the characters representing the school and yet his pseudo liberal bluster is the most pernicious because he uses it to uphold the most oppressive values. It is also significant that he is shot by 'the girl' (and also the film's only working class character), who is deliberately marginalised from the film, not even being humanised by a name, and yet with this act she claims power (and on a sidenote what a strong presence Christine Noonan had, it's a shame she wasn't in more films..she has a few brief scenes in O Lucky Man as well).


Yes, he's almost like the "trendy vicar" isn't he? On the one hand, he seems gracious and accomodating, on the other hand, he's more affronted by their growing long hair and refusal to wear their uniform properly than he is the indoctrinated bullying. Christine Noonan's presence is vital to the film because she's the catalyst for the entire second half- and she is, I think, the only character aside from Travis who acts on instinct throughout.
I was also struck by how unremitting the first half of the film is. This is where Anderson's background as a documentarian really comes through. There is a remorseless detailing of the hierarchy and its dehumanising effects. The film changes tone and pace with Mick's liberating journey into town. From this point on the film meshes fantasy with the realistic diegesis of the narrative to the point where we can no longer tell what is true and what is not, for example the stealing of the motorbike and sexual encounter with the girl come across as more adolescent fantasy than anything else. Similarly the film moves from a grimly absurdist observation to downright surrealism (the vicar in the drawer!). And as a viewer I found myself liberated by all this as the institution is not just documented but belittled.


Yes, it's almost relentless, isn't it? I think that's one aspect I found so problematic about the film, the fact it didn't shy away from the sheer nastiness of even the most banal strictures placed upon the boys and also exploited by those near the top. In many ways, they are as bad as the schoolmasters, if not worse, because they're supposed to be the future. It's tough to take, and that's why we need the morbid surrealism of the second half- even if some of it is shot with an entirely straight face (notice how no one seems to find it odd that the vicar was in the drawer!)

Finally I know Anderson liked to dismiss the colour/b&w thing as an economic necessity, but I've never entirely bought this. The way it used is somehow too knowing in the way it jolts the viewer from the comfort of watching "the film", it seems a classic example of a Brechtian distancing device. And there are others, for example the casting of actors obviously in their late twenties to play teenagers. I don't think this is a film that wants the audience to get too comfortable or empathetic in relation to what they see, it's always pulling us back to force us to question what we feel about it.


I think it help accentuates the way the film almost doubles back on itself. On the one hand, it keeps to a very rigid structure, with chapter headings even, on the other hand, the way it's shot seems to push and pull against this. We're never entirely sure what to actually make of it.
Finally a word about MacDowell. He really was an electrifying presence for a brief period in British cinema, no one else quite did that fallen angel malovelence like him.


It's interesting to see the differences between his performance here and in A Clockwork Orange, though- in the latter he's a whirlind of manic energy (in the first half anyway), in If..., he's loose-limbed and acerbic. In both he seems to tap into a defiant (and ultimately futile) anti-establishment feeling with absolute accuracy.
Not an easy film, but an exciting and inspiring one. Looking forward to further discussion.


Agreed!
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby James R » 19 Dec 2008, 12:18

More thoughts after having just finished watching the film.

Moddie is spot on about the unremitting nature of the film. Seeing it again, I now observe there actually really isn't a conventional plot development as such; while it's still linear, it's really based upon the accumulation of instances, the small bits of viciousness and cruelty that all add up over time to an inevitable explosion. (Although I do wonder if the film wouldn't have been better off without the war games bit which ends with Travis shooting and bayonetting the vicar, as the ending is perhaps not quite as quite as extreme as it might have been without that scene. Or maybe not.) You can kind of see that non-conventional development in the way it rather casually introduces and then drops potential plot angles; cf. how it looks like Jute and Stephans and Biles will play a larger role in proceedings when, ultimately, they don't really seem to do so.

I think the whole point of the film is that, ultimately, the Whips are as bad if not worse than the schoolmasters (cf. the scene where Rowntree and the others are having tea with Mr Kemp, and the latter almost comes across as fearing them), moreso perhaps because we witness the contempt with which they clearly view each other (cf. the scene in which Rowntree assigns Phillips to Denson almost as punishment). I suppose maybe the film does take a somewhat nasty view of the other students, too; there seems to be the implication that, eventually, they too will just grow up to be as ghastly as the Whips. There's an interesting IMDB review of the film, which suggests that Jute covers the reverse trajectory to Mick Travis, i.e. he starts out the isolated boy who doesn't know all the rules of the house and so forth, and who ultimately becomes a comfortable little part of the establishment.

Isn't there something kind of breathtaking about the scene where the two boys break away from the school football game and head into town? This is, after all, the first we've seen of the wider world outside the school in the whole film, and it's about halfway through the film; it's like this sudden eruption into a far bigger world of possibilities outside the confines of the school, which by contrast seems almost cut off from reality in some way, or as if it's fighting a losing battle with the modern world. Indeed, the recognition that the film actually is taking place in the late 60s as opposed to, say, the early 1900s comes almost as a shock in some respects.

Profile mentioned something about how funny the film is, but on this second viewing I'm not so sure. There's humour, obviously, but it's really hard-edged to the point where it's actually kind of hard to laugh at. Especially when it comes to the ending. As I mentioned earlier, the ending comes from Jean Vigo's Zero de conduite, but there's a kind of gleefulness about the ending of the Vigo film that isn't present in If...., where something much nastier and less pleasant underlies the shoot-em-up climax.

By remarkable synchronicity, I have Gmail open while I'm typing this and it's just offered me this gem as a quote of the day from Malcolm Forbes:

"Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one."

Which I think is a debatable proposition at the best of times, but If.... really offers a right baleful laugh at it.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby James R » 19 Dec 2008, 12:54

Also, I sampled a bit of the DVD audio commentary as well, and I thought McDowell made an interesting point when he said If.... could never have been made by an openly gay man. What do we make of this assertion?
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Matt Wilson » 19 Dec 2008, 15:48

'Twas the night before James R wrote:Also, I sampled a bit of the DVD audio commentary as well, and I thought McDowell made an interesting point when he said If.... could never have been made by an openly gay man. What do we make of this assertion?


I thought the director was openly gay.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Modernist » 19 Dec 2008, 17:10

Lance Matthew wrote:
'Twas the night before James R wrote:Also, I sampled a bit of the DVD audio commentary as well, and I thought McDowell made an interesting point when he said If.... could never have been made by an openly gay man. What do we make of this assertion?


I thought the director was openly gay.


It was common knowledge Anderson was gay, but he chose not to be active. Whether this means he should be seen as a repressed homosexual or celibate homosexual I'm not sure, I suppose it depends on his reasons for not openly expressing his sexuality.
I think MacDowell makes a great point actually. And the sexual repression and guilt of most of the characters in the film, from Arthur Lowe's sex starved wife to the junior whip's confession of his "dirty thoughts" to Denson's self-loathing at his attraction to Phillips, was something I really picked up on in this viewing. I think it quite possible that these feelings may have been very real to Anderson.
The only characters who seem sexually confident or at least at ease with their sexuality are Travis and Travis' mate (the one who's good at gymnastics) who both form the only relationships we see in this film. Sexuality, and the supression of sexuality, are very important to the film. A direct link is drawn between the oppressive and joyless institution and this suppression. Indeed Travis spells it out when he repeatedly spits out "frigid" at Rountree.

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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Snarfyguy » 19 Dec 2008, 18:06

Lance Matthew wrote:
'Twas the night before James R wrote:Also, I sampled a bit of the DVD audio commentary as well, and I thought McDowell made an interesting point when he said If.... could never have been made by an openly gay man. What do we make of this assertion?


I thought the director was openly gay.

Gay, yes, but closeted, I think.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 19 Dec 2008, 18:28

Films like this one make me feel a bit like a tourist. Not being from the UK it is harder to draw the parallels I assume Anderson would like to evoke between the microcosm of the school and British society. Of course we in America have our own repressive culture to bring to the film, but I can't help feeling that we yanks are only capable of a surface appreciation of the system he is skewering.

Absent that deeper level of understanding, I found myself just as willing to condemn the rebels as the agents of conformity. The question that kept leaping to mind is, if you shoot up the system - what do you intend to replace it with? Are human beings hard-wired to seek out dehumanization no matter what system we find ourselves part of?

Like all good films it brings up a lot of questions and few answers.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Write Profile » 19 Dec 2008, 20:07

'Twas the night before James R wrote:
Isn't there something kind of breathtaking about the scene where the two boys break away from the school football game and head into town? This is, after all, the first we've seen of the wider world outside the school in the whole film, and it's about halfway through the film; it's like this sudden eruption into a far bigger world of possibilities outside the confines of the school, which by contrast seems almost cut off from reality in some way, or as if it's fighting a losing battle with the modern world. Indeed, the recognition that the film actually is taking place in the late 60s as opposed to, say, the early 1900s comes almost as a shock in some respects.


Ironically, that was the segment I most identified with, as it reminded me of my secondary school*-the idea that every single pupil should take an interest in the school's first XV rugby team, which is of course preposterous, even for fans of the game such as myself. The school used to call off the second half of the day on interschools so pupils could watch the match, but woe betide anyone who decided to bunk off and actually go home because they didn't give a toss about rugby.

And you're right that this is the first scene that really throws us into the contemporary setting- I do think it's clear from the start though, that the school is some dwindling outpost on the edge of society, partly because of the way the establishing shots frame it (sort of as this semi-gothic nightmare). Of course, there are also brief intrusions of the present in the shots of Mick Travis's dorm room- which is adorned with posters of Che and various pinups-but that sequence spells it out.

*I went to a public, not private, school, but it was single-sex, even if we had a lot of contact with our "sister" girls school down the road.
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Modernist » 19 Dec 2008, 21:16

The RightGraduate Profile wrote:
*I went to a public, not private, school


Although confusingly public school is the same as private school in the uk.

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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Bungo the Mungo » 19 Dec 2008, 21:20

Dr Modernist wrote:Although confusingly public school is the same as private school in the uk.


you've no class. G.

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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Write Profile » 19 Dec 2008, 21:58

'Twas the night before James R wrote:More thoughts after having just finished watching the film.

Moddie is spot on about the unremitting nature of the film. Seeing it again, I now observe there actually really isn't a conventional plot development as such; while it's still linear, it's really based upon the accumulation of instances, the small bits of viciousness and cruelty that all add up over time to an inevitable explosion. (Although I do wonder if the film wouldn't have been better off without the war games bit which ends with Travis shooting and bayonetting the vicar, as the ending is perhaps not quite as quite as extreme as it might have been without that scene. Or maybe not.) You can kind of see that non-conventional development in the way it rather casually introduces and then drops potential plot angles; cf. how it looks like Jute and Stephans and Biles will play a larger role in proceedings when, ultimately, they don't really seem to do so.


I think you need the War Games bit because it rams another point home- that the violence is pretty much ingrained in the school system, Mick and his cohorts are merely shooting from outside at it. The school will happily endorse violence if it involves some specious reenactment of British military values, but isn't prepared to live with the consequences of what that attitude engenders when harnessed and twisted against the system.

You're right about the way the film casually introduces and drops plotlines and characters throughout- you would've thought that Jute, being (I think) the first pupil we're actually introduced to in the film, would be significant to the development of the film. But instead he's dropped from the story as soon as he's served his purpose to underline the wider effect of the bullying.
There's an interesting IMDB review of the film, which suggests that Jute covers the reverse trajectory to Mick Travis, i.e. he starts out the isolated boy who doesn't know all the rules of the house and so forth, and who ultimately becomes a comfortable little part of the establishment.


Goodness, I never thought about that, but whoever wrote that is right- it's obvious on reflection isn't it? As I've said before, the film ultimately offers no real solution and its final stance is ultimately futile or even defeatest. After all, it essentially harnesses the barely suppressed attitudes and actions of the school against the school itself....
It's before my time but I've been told, he never came back from Karangahape Road.

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Hugo
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Hugo » 06 Jan 2009, 09:35

This is a film I totally identified with when I was 17 and attending a single-sex rugger-bugger private school (albeit in the Antipodes). Seeing it now I still find it an exhilarating if far more problematic work. One thing that strikes me now is that the "Establishment" Anderson creates is really no less a fantasy than its "revolutionary" antidote. His Ripping Yarns vision of public school life must have been wildly out of date by the late sixties (did they even still have whips and fags then?), which means the film really never touches base with "real life" in a documentary sense - both its binaries are fantastical. Another thing that strikes me is the nature of the Travis's revolt. We tie it in with "les événements" of 1968, and perhaps draw conclusions about the essential nihilism of bourgeois revolt (as Modernist does upstream). I wonder if there isn't something even darker going on here. There's a crypto-fascist element to their revolt - the arrogant, good-looking thugs getting their thrills gunning down the ugly old parents as they leave church. You can't help feeling that ten years later, these guys would no longer be revolutionary terrorists, rather they'd be at the vanguard of the Thatcherite revolution, tearing down "society" with the same hatred...

The Modernist

Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Modernist » 06 Jan 2009, 19:57

I like that last point, a very interesting way of looking at it!
Certainly there's little reformist or ideological idealism to them. They don't sit around discussing ways society should be made fairer or more equal, it is entirely nihilistic- it's about destruction (and this is why the film reminds me of UK punk in many ways). Political engagement for them is about sticking a cool looking revolutionary on the wall. They seem to have a particular attraction to black forms of protest (we see Mau-Mau fighters, Travis listens to an African spiritual). On the one hand this could be wish fulfillment, the uprisings in Kenya and other countries in the late fifties and early sixties were throwing off the kind of colonial rule exemplified by the school they are at. On the other hand it seems a comment on the kind of glossy pop idealisation of revolution as a fashion stance, the kind of thing Tom Wolfe later satirised as 'radical chic' (in his famous essay on Leonard Bernstein giving a fundraising party for The Black Panthers in the Upper Westside).
On some of the archaic practices featured in the film, it seems fagging was still around at the time of the film's production though very much on the decline:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fagging
Still as you say, it doesn't matter much to the accuracy of what was portrayed, the important thing for the film was that it was a great metaphor for examining issues of power and generational conflict.

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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby Hugo » 07 Jan 2009, 14:28

Interesting you should mention the African soundtrack (which I think is fantastic, btw), because a "close reading" of the music choice actually seems to belie the notion of African freedom fighters - it's extracts from a Catholic mass sung by the Troubadours du roi Baudouin, ie a pure product of the worst kind of colonialism, more Tintin in the Congo than the Black Panthers.

The more I think about this film, the more I think it's actually the opposite of what it purports to be. The target is wrong for the 1968 uprisings: it's not the doomed remnants of the 19th century Imperialist Establishment (as represented by fagging, Anglican church etc) that is the "enemy" by then, it's the technocrats of the capitalist-industrial complex. Mick Travis & co., once they've got rid of "Olde Englande", are probably Richard Bransons in the making, primed to get filthy rich once the eighties kick in (Thatcherism being the logical conclusion of the individualism of the counter-culture). I know Lindsay Anderson remained on the Left until his death, but I think it's interesting that many if not most of the "angry young men" of his generation (Kingsley Amis, John Osbourne etc.) ended up on the Right, and also someone like Branson could use the hippy counter-culture as a springboard for capitalist success. I think that's an interesting lens through which to see Travis & co.'s revolt.