FILM CLUB- "If..."

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the masked man
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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby the masked man » 22 Mar 2009, 16:28

Finally saw this again, so I can supply some belated comments. So, picking up on Davey's comments about 'feeling a tourist', I must to feeling something quite similar, through reasons of class rather than nationality. Having been educated in the comprehensive system, the arcane world of the English public school seems totally alien to me. Having seen If..., I can't say I'm too disappointed that I was excluded from such an educational experience...

My thoughts are also rather fragmentary, so I'll divide it up into segments.

1. Nihilism

It's a quite frighteningly, yet exhilaratingly, nihilistic experience. It's obvious that Anderson, a product of English public schools, has no love for these frightful institutions. Yet he seems quite removed from Travis and his rebellion too; I felt that he was keeping a distance from his charismatic but violent lead. This did give the film a somewhat hollow feel. Anderson had perceived that something was badly wrong, yet had little idea about how to counter the deeply damaging effects public schools have on British culture. So he concocts a revenge fantasy that goes against the intense realism of the early parts of the film. This is satisfying on an emotional level, yet doesn't seem particularly constructive. It's just a howl of rage.

2. The uselessness of authority

One thing that did strike me was how utterly vacuous all the adult characters were. All the speeches delivered to the students were just so lacking in any kind of substance. The reactionary bunk spouted at great length was removed from any kind of reality. This is actually why I think the war games sequence is a success, absurd though it is. The children are forced to take part in a militarist fantasy that denies the true bloodthirsty nature of warfare. By introducing live guns, Travis brutally emphasises the cruel and squalid nature of warfare.

3. The rule of violence

In a sense, the reactionary posturing of the adults is almost worse than the sickening, ritualised violence endemic within the institution. Or rather, it legitimises that violence, supplying a moral veneer to the sadism. So, a master tells the prefects he will turn a blind eye to any measures needed to quell rebellion.

4. Hermetically sealed

The whole place is an artificially hived-off environment. At one point, Arthur Lowe's ineffectual buffoon of a master warns that the town is strictly off-limits, as if the real world cannot be allowed to infect the school. Of course, to Travis that proves to be a challenge rather than an order.

5. Two French directors.

So how does this compare with Vigo's Zéro de conduite, its ostensible model? Well, Jean Vigo's film moves to a totally different rhythm. It's a breezier affair, dominated by the anarchic desires of the rebellious pupils. The final rooftop protest takes no lives, but removes all dignity from the authority figures.

Anderson's film is more solemn, reflecting how the system grinds down any anarchic spirit. All joy is removed from this environment, and the film reflects that. This is why Travis needs to look outside to achieve his aims. If anything, the film is far closer to Godard in many respects. Like many boarders, Travis expresses himself by decorating his quarters. He creates collages of revolutionary activity that recalls the iconography used by Godard on his Maoist-influenced films, like La Chinoise. And his escape into the country is achieved using a stolen motorcycle; in Godard, motor vehicles are always connected with death. It's probably no coincidence that this trip leads to a meeting with the waitress who will play a major part in the final massacre.

5. One minor character

This time, while watching, I started thinking about one minor character; a bespectacled, studious boy who would, nine times out of ten, be treated contemptuously in the movies. Not here, though. This boy is fascinated with astronomy and science, and I saw him as being about the only one who has a workable strategy for surviving public school. By focusing on his studies to the exclusion of anything else and keeping a sense of wonder alive, he remains aloof from the earthbound squabbles of school life. I couldn't help feeling that he'd staged a quiet personal rebellion that's a good deal more effective than Travis' more overt protest. In the present day, I could imagine his grown-up self working on the Hadron Collider project, while the other ex-schoolboys sit around, sipping gin and moaning about the country going to the dogs. An unlikely hero, perhaps?

I really like films that have little details in them, that can lead to thoughts like this; suggesting that even minor characters might have existences outside the framework of the movie.

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Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Write Profile » 24 Mar 2009, 05:38

Great post, Andrew!
I'll pick up on all of the points you raised when I get the time and/or home internet connection (currently typing this at an internet cafe..) but I thought I'd address this post, first:

the masked man wrote:5. One minor character

This time, while watching, I started thinking about one minor character; a bespectacled, studious boy who would, nine times out of ten, be treated contemptuously in the movies. Not here, though. This boy is fascinated with astronomy and science, and I saw him as being about the only one who has a workable strategy for surviving public school. By focusing on his studies to the exclusion of anything else and keeping a sense of wonder alive, he remains aloof from the earthbound squabbles of school life. I couldn't help feeling that he'd staged a quiet personal rebellion that's a good deal more effective than Travis' more overt protest. In the present day, I could imagine his grown-up self working on the Hadron Collider project, while the other ex-schoolboys sit around, sipping gin and moaning about the country going to the dogs. An unlikely hero, perhaps?

I really like films that have little details in them, that can lead to thoughts like this; suggesting that even minor characters might have existences outside the framework of the movie.


Could I go one further and suggest that Mick Travis could become one of those very individuals who would suggest that "society is going to the dogs"? One thing that struck me about is rebellion wasn't so much its ferocity as its utter glibness. The way Anderson conceives him, his most vital force isn't his politics but his unashamed, sexually-charged fervour. Once that goes, you're left with a bunch of slogans and little in the way of a plan. Which I suppose is the point. And something else worth noting is the fact that Travis only choses the most obvious of signifiers- even back then, Che was revolutionary shorthand- so already he's bozed himself into a corner. Indeed, the most unsettling aspect of the film, for me, anyway was the bile directed towards the youth was as heavy as the bile directed towards the system. Why else would they try to kill everyone at the end?

And yet, as you say, that one minor character seems to suggest an effective means of bucking the system by simply using the best aspects of it for his own ends. That is, he understood the obvious revolutionary power of knowledge.

Your mention of the Hadron Collider was spot-on by the way. Whenever I think of it, however, I'm reminded of my grandfather who passed away last year. He was a Quantum Physicist, who indeed assisted with some of the very earliest stages of the project some thirty odd years ago. The fact it became officially "operational" the day after his death was strangely poignant, to me, anyway.

Erm, sorry for the last bit of self-indulgence!
It's before my time but I've been told, he never came back from Karangahape Road.

The Modernist

Re: FILM CLUB- "If..."

Postby The Modernist » 13 Aug 2010, 12:06

bump for moving