By Aaron Hillis
By Casey Burchby
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Calum Marsh
By Kera Bolonik
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Ernest Hardy
By Eric Hynes
That said, If . . . (which, so far as I know, has never until now been reviewed in the Voice) should be no one's idea of an agitprop masterpiece. Nor is it particularly topical, despite the iconic pinups of Che (and the young Charlotte Rampling) scattered about and the emphasis on the rebellious students' overlong locks. The project evidently originated with two disgruntled public school graduates who began working on the treatment at Oxford in 1960. Fans of Rebel Without a Cause, they first sent their script to Nicholas Ray. Anderson did not become involved for another six yearsat which time the distinguished documentarian and cineaste made the movie his own, a follow-up to This Sporting Life, his first feature and previous attack on institutional masculinity, Brit style.
If . . . is, however, full of social allegory and free-floating parodies of British political rhetoric. The movie was originally called The Crusaders; its new title makes a cheeky reference to the Rudyard Kipling celebration of imperial responsibility: "If you can keep your head while all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you/You'll be a man, my son." Interestingly, though, If . . . lacks a clear-cut generational divide. Alternately groping and cuffing their charges, the teachers are less villainous than the strutting upperclassmen known as whips, who enforce the school's rigid caste system and punish the dashing rebel McDowell with cold showers and canings.
If . . .
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Written by David Sherwin and John Howlett
A Paramount Repertory release
January 12 through 18
McDowell's ordeal is far more visceral than his revolt. He and his mates are inspired by the Congolese mass, Missa Lubaperhaps the movie's polite equivalent of rock music. In a stolen moment of motorbike freedom, they pick up a feisty (though silent) working-class bird who becomes their mascot. If they seem a bit abstract, so is the movie, which is filled with solemnly surrealistic interpolationsa priest being stored in a chest of drawers, a house mother wandering naked through the empty dormitory. Scarcely less capricious than the school's idiotic, platitude-spouting administration are the film's shifts back and forth from color to black and white.
If . . . was explicitly modeled on Jean Vigo's lyrical paean to schoolboy rebellion, Zero de Conduite. The climax is a direct swipe from Vigo's 1933 film, albeit with the stakes considerably raised. I don't believe that audiences were shocked by the disproportionate violence back in 1969. After all, that was wartime. But if originally mistaken for a Maoist cell, the school's alienated clique today seems more a premonition of the killers at Columbinesomething Stanley Kubrick apparently intuited when he cast the suddenly hot McDowell as the futuristic juvenile delinquent in A Clockwork Orange.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city