if . . . . (1968)

DVD, Dir: Lindsay Anderson with Malcolm McDowell

Jennings and Darbishire go bad [and storm the Winter Palace].

I saw this film a few years ago for the first time, but I had forgotten – how could I? – that some scenes were in colour and some in B&W. It’s disorienting: you try to grasp the significance while watching but, on later reading, it seems that it was purely for technical/economic reasons. Which is fine: it’s a film, not reality. Verfremdungseffekt and all that.

It is gripping and I enjoyed the youthful cynicism and energy (shades of Stalky & Co) and the surrealism. The public school rituals are entertainingly ludicrous . . . but also nasty (“side hair tweak exquisitely painful”) although the film – like a proper public schoolboy – keeps its distance from the emotional horrors that must have ensued. The continuation of the hallowed institution is everything: anything other than the mildest kicks against authority must be punished.

The gaze was that of a teenage boy – whether new arrival, disaffected lower sixth or lordly prefect. Adults were neatly portrayed with schoolboy slander: the housemaster’s wife was pure X-rated Molesworth. I wondered if Lindsay Anderson was reliving schoolboy rage in making this film, although the study pictures and the Congolese Sanctus make a wider connection with revolution, colonial imperialism and resistance.

Watching it in 2017, I appreciate the film’s anarchy and rebelliousness, but I see it in the context of 1968 and am now too old to be swept up by it. The ending . . . perhaps it really did seem at the time that revolution was going to happen in Britain, but now it looks nihilistic.

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