British cinema poster
|Directed by||Lindsay Anderson|
|Produced by||Lindsay Anderson
|Screenplay by||David Sherwin|
|Story by||David Sherwin
|Music by||Marc Wilkinson|
|Editing by||David Gladwell|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Running time||111 minutes|
|Box office||$2.3 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
if.... is a 1968 British drama film produced and directed by Lindsay Anderson satirising English public school life. Famous for its depiction of a savage insurrection at a fictitious boys boarding school, the X certificate film was made at the time of the May 1968 protests in France by a director strongly associated with the 1960s counterculture.
The film stars Malcolm McDowell in his first screen role and his first appearance as Anderson's "everyman" character Mick Travis. Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, David Wood, and Robert Swann also star.
if.... won the Palme d'Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, the magazine Total Film named it the sixteenth greatest British film of all time. The Criterion Collection released the DVD on 19 June 2007.
The film is set in a British independent boys boarding school in the late 1960s (most of the scenes were filmed at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire, with the remainder at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire). Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is one of three non-conformist boys among the returning class. They are watched and persecuted by the "Whips", senior boys given authority as prefects over juniors. The prefects are entitled to the services of "Scum", who are first-year boys assigned to run errands, make tea and generally act as unpaid servants. This refers to the old tradition of "fagging" which still persisted in many British independent boys' schools.
The early part of the film shows scenes in the school as the pupils return at the start of a new term. Mick Travis, the protagonist, arrives with a suitcase on his shoulder, wearing a black hat, with a black scarf across his face to hide his moustache. Stephans comments, "God, it's Guy Fawkes back again", hinting at the conclusion of the film. Rowntree (Robert Swann) is the Head Whip, and he revels in his power, ordering the junior boys to "Run! Run in the corridor!"
After the first evening meal, the Whips conduct some of the more mundane business of the school, signing up boys for "Confirmation class" and "VD clinic". Each boy has to lower his pants so the school nurse can inspect his genitals and inner thighs for signs of tinea cruris.
These early scenes show the school's customs and traditions. The headmaster (Peter Jeffrey) is somewhat remote from the boys and the housemasters. Arthur Lowe, as Mick's housemaster Mr Kemp, is told "I'll have to get back to you on that" when he brings things to the headmaster's attention. Kemp himself is easily manipulated by the Whips into giving them a free hand in enforcing discipline. Some of the staff are shown as suffering from various perversions. For example, the chaplain (Geoffrey Chater), who is also the geometry master, enjoys grasping the boys and hurting them during class. At bedtime, Mr Kemp sings a hymn as his wife (Mary MacLeod) accompanies him on the recorder; the matron (Mona Washbourne), overhearing, is lulled peacefully to sleep. Mrs Kemp herself is seen walking naked through the boys' dormitory and washroom while fondling soap, towels and other objects the boys have carelessly strewn about.
One day, having sneaked off campus and into town (an act strictly forbidden by house rules), Mick steals a motorbike from a showroom and has an affair with a local waitress. Meanwhile, Wallace finds adolescent romance with Bobby Philips, a junior boy, whom he takes to bed. They indulge in self-inflicted ordeals, such as seeing how long they can hold a plastic bag over their faces.
As the film progresses, it concentrates on Mick's group and their clashes with the school authorities. Mick and his friends are subject to punishments, and eventually they are sentenced to corporal punishment in the form of a severe "beating" (i.e. a caning) by the Whips. The caning is administered by Rowntree in the gym with a long run-up (this scene is said to be based on traditional practice at Tonbridge School, where scriptwriter David Sherwin was a student in the 1950s). The three boys are left with bleeding buttocks. Mick's punishment is especially brutal (10 strokes), yet tradition demands that he shake hands when it is over and say, "Thank you".
Scenes are shot through with surreal elements, such as some scenes being shot in black and white. This was not for dramatic emphasis, as people presumed, but simply because the huge windows at the college gave off obstructing light that affected the camera lenses. Another explanation given later by Lindsay Anderson is simply that the production was running out of money.
At the end, in a surreal sequence, they discover a cache of automatic weapons, and revolt against the establishment. On Founders' Day, when parents are visiting the school, they start a fire under the hall, smoke out the parents, staff and boys, and open fire on them from a rooftop. Led by the visiting General who was giving the speech, the staff and boys break open the Combined Cadet Force armoury and fire back.
The headmaster tries to stop the firefight and calls for peace. Mick's girl, who is on the roof with them, produces a Webley Revolver from her belt and shoots the headmaster through the forehead. The battle continues, and the camera closes in on Mick's face as he keeps firing, ending the film with a blackout and an echo of gunfire with the film's title "if...." emblazoned in red on the screen.
Production and locations
David Sherwin's original title for the screenplay was Crusaders, during the writing of which he drew heavily from his experiences at Tonbridge School in Kent. In 1960, he and his friend and co-writer John Howlett took it to Seth Holt, a veteran Ealing Comedy film editor who at the time was breaking into direction with Hammer Studios, for which he would go on to direct several classics. Holt felt unqualified to direct but offered to produce Crusaders. They also took it to Sherwin's hero, Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray, who liked it but had a nervous breakdown before anything came of it. Holt introduced Sherwin to Anderson in a Soho pub.
The school was Anderson's alma mater Cheltenham College, Gloucestershire, but this was not revealed as part of the agreement needed to shoot there. The then headmaster, David Ashcroft, persuaded the school governors to agree that the film could be made. As a result, shooting started in mid-March 1968 and lasted for 3 weeks during term-time. The boys who appeared in the film were actual students at the school who had time off lessons to take part. In one scene, Peter Jeffrey (as headmaster) gives a series of speeches to the school prefects some of whom were real. The College received a facility fee of £1,000 per day over the 20 days.
The J&H Packhorse Cafe no longer exists. It was originally on the A5 just south of Dunstable in Bedfordshire (near the village of Markyate) and not in the Cheltenham area as originally thought.[who?] The original site of the Cafe is now on the "Packhorse Place Industrial Park" behind the petrol station just south of the Kensworth turn.
The sweat room scenes were filmed in the School Room in School House at Aldenham School (though they were redesigned for the film). The dormitory scenes were also at Aldenham – specifically The Long Room for the junior boys and the room with the wooden partitions called Lower Cubs (short for cubicles). The shower scene and toilets were in School House changing rooms.
The painting in the dining hall is Aldenham School's founder, Richard Platt. The Hall scene was an amalgamation of both school halls at Cheltenham and Aldenham.
Carew Manor in Wallington Surrey, was used for the opening staircase scene and for several other scenes. It was filmed during the summer when the school had closed for holidays.
Anderson originally approached Charterhouse School and later Cranleigh School for permission to shoot the film; negotiations were going well until the schools discovered the content of the film and pulled out.
The outside shots of the school including the final showdown on the roof were that of Cheltenham College. This was filmed after term ended.
The Speech Day interior was filmed inside St John's Church on Albion Street, Cheltenham. The church was eventually demolished.
The motorbike shop was filmed at the Broadway Motor Company on Gladstone Rd, Merton, London SW19. The garage is now a Wetherspoons pub.
Much is said of the film's use of black and white sequences. In the audio commentary to the 2007 DVD release, Malcolm McDowell confirmed that lighting the chapel scenes for colour filming would take much longer than they would if they were lit for black and white. The time they could use the school chapel was limited, so Anderson opted to shoot those scenes not in colour. Liking the effect this gave, he then decided to shoot other sequences in black and white to improve the 'texture' of the film. As a child, he was impressed watching a gangster film which started in black and white and then turned to colour.
The other disputed reason for the mixed use of black/white and colour was due to the film's limited budget, therefore requiring shots towards the end of filming to be done in black and white.
Sources and influence
The film's surrealist sequences have been compared to Jean Vigo's French classic Zéro de conduite (1933). Anderson acknowledged an influence, and described how he arranged a viewing of that film with his screenwriters, David Sherwin and John Howlett at an early stage in production planning, though in his view the Vigo film's influence on "if..." was structural rather than merely cosmetic. "Seeing Vigo's film gave us the idea and also the confidence to proceed with the kind of scene-structure that we devised for the first part of the film particularly."
A single piece of music recurs in the film, the "Sanctus" from the Missa Luba. This version of the Latin Mass in African style, sung by a choir of Congolese children, had been on the UK Singles Chart in the 1960s.
The final gun battle was parodied in a 1970 episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus entitled "It's A Living (or: School Prizes)." The parody is presented as "if" – a film by Mr Dibley", in which Dibley is played by Terry Jones.
The 1994 Japanese role-playing video game Shin Megami Tensei if... was named after the movie. The game is about a school that is drawn in a realm of demons, and the game uses the same font as the movie for the If... part of its title.
McDowell's performance in if.... caught the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who subsequently cast him in his 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Additionally, McDowell used his performance in if.... in his inspiration for the Clockwork Orange protagonist, Alexander DeLarge. Having been given the script by Kubrick, McDowell was unsure on how he would play the part of Alex, and so he contacted Lindsay Anderson, asking for advice. McDowell relates the story:
Anyway, he said 'Malcolm, this is how you play the part: there is a scene of you, a close-up in if...., where you open the doors to the gymnasium, to be beaten. You get a close-up.' I said 'that's right.' He said 'do you remember...' I said 'yes. I smiled.' He said 'that's right. You gave them that smile. That sort of ironic smile,' he said 'and that's how you play Alex.' And I went 'my god, that's brilliant. That's brilliant.' That's all I needed and that was enough, and that is a brilliant piece of direction for an actor.
if.... is the first movie in the Mick Travis trilogy, all starring Malcolm McDowell as everyman character Mick Travis:
These two movies, however, do not follow the same continuity of the first film and have nothing in common other than several identically named characters in similar roles. At the time of Anderson's death he had completed a final draft of a proper sequel to if...., but it was never made. The sequel takes place during a Founders' Day Celebration where many of the characters reunite. Mick Travis is now an Oscar-nominated movie star, eschewing England for Hollywood. Wallace is a military major who has lost his arm. Johnny is a clergyman. Rowntree is the Minister of War. In the script Rowntree is kidnapped by a group of anti-war students and saved by Mick and his gang, though not before Mick crucifies Rowntree with a large nail through his palm.
- Lambert, Gavin (2000). Mainly About Lindsay Anderson (1st ed.). New York: Knopf. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-679-44598-2.
- Sherwin, David (1969). if.... A film by Lindsay Anderson and David Sherwin. [Screenplay by David Sherwin]. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-671-20451-8.
- Anderson, Lindsay (2004). Ryan, Paul, ed. Never Apologise: The Collected Writings of Lindsay Anderson. London: Plexus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85965-317-6.
- Anderson, Lindsay (2004). Sutton, Paul, ed. Lindsay Anderson: Diaries. London: Methuen Pub Ltd. ISBN 978-0-413-77397-5.
- Sinker, Mark (2004). if.... London: British Film Institute. ISBN 978-1-84457-040-9.
- Sutton, Paul (2005). if...: Turner Classic Movies British Film Guide (Turner Classic Movies British Film Guides). London: I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-85043-672-0.
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p402
- "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
- "Festival de Cannes: If....". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
- DVD review, Total Film.
- 'If... Film Locations' at Gloucestershire On Screen
- Lindsay Andersen (2007)  (DVD audio commentary to the film). If.... (Liner notes). Los Angeles: Paramount Home Entertainment. PHE 9395.
- Sutton (2005).
- Extract from letter written in 1976 by Lindsay Anderson to Jack Landman in which he discusses the parallels between If.. and Jean Vigo's Zéro de Conduite (LA 1/6/3/8), The Anderson Collection, University of Stirling, accessed 14 February 2008
- [dead link]
- if.... at Rotten Tomatoes
- Sutton 97–102.
- Further reading
- Catterall, Ali; and Wells, Simon (2001). Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since The Sixties. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0-00-714554-6
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