IF. . . - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

UK, 1968

Director: Lindsay Anderson

Production: Memorial Enterprises; color with tinted black and white sequences (EastmanColor), 35mm; running time: 112 minutes, American version 111 minutes. Released December 1968, London. Filmed beginning 8 March 1968 at Cheltenham College, England. Cost: budgeted at ÂŁ50,000.

Producers: Roy Baird with Michael Medwin and Lindsay Anderson; screenplay: David Sherwin, from the original script "Crusaders" by David Sherwin and John Howlett; photography: Miroslav Ondricek; editor: David Gladwell; sound recordist: Christian Wangler; production designer: Jocelyn Herbert; art director: Brian Eatwell; music: Marc Wilkinson; costume designer: Shura Cohen.

Cast: Malcolm McDowell ( Mick ); David Wood ( Johnny ); Richard Warwick ( Wallace ); Christine Noonan ( Girl ); Rupert Webster ( Bobby Philips ); Robert Swann ( Rowntree ); Hugh Thomas ( Denson ); Michael Cadman ( Fortinbras ); Peter Sproule ( Barnes ); Peter Jeffrey ( Headmaster ); Arthur Lowe ( Mr. Kemp ); Mona Washbourne ( Matron ); Mary MacLeod ( Mrs. Kemp ); Geoffrey Chater ( Chaplain ); Ben Aris ( John Thomas ); Graham Crowden ( History Master ); Charles Lloyd Pack ( Classics Master ); Anthony Nicholls ( General Denson ); Tommy Godfrey ( Finchley ); Guy Ross ( Stephans ); Robin Askwith ( Keating ); Richard Everett ( Pussy Graves ); Philip Bagenal ( Peanuts ); Nicholas Page ( Cox ); Robert Yetzes ( Fisher ); David Griffen ( Willens ); Graham Sharman ( Van Eyssen ); Richard Tombleson ( Baird ); Richard Davis ( Machin ); Brian Pettifer ( Biles ); Michael Newport ( Brunning ); Charles Sturridge ( Markland ); Sean Bury ( Jute ); Martin Beaumont ( Hunter ).

Awards: Cannes Film Festival, Grand Prix, 1969.



Anderson, Lindsay, and David Sherwin, If. . . : A Film by Lindsay Anderson , New York, 1969.


Manvell, Roger, New Cinema in Britain , New York, 1969.

Sussex, Elizabeth, Lindsay Anderson , New York, 1969.

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Walker, Alexander, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industry in the Sixties , London, 1974.

Silet, Charles L. P., Lindsay Anderson: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1981.

Graham Allison, Lindsay Anderson , Boston, 1981.

Hedling, Erik, Lindsay Anderson: Maverick Film Maker , New York, 1998.

Lambert, Gavin, Lindsay Anderson, New York, 2000.


Schrader, Paul, in Cinema (London), no. 3, 1968.

Robinson, David, "Anderson Shooting If. . . ," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1968.

Miller, Gavin, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1968.

Shivas, Mark, in Movie (London), Winter 1968.

Powell, Dilys, in Sunday Times (London), 22 December 1968.

Gladwell, David, "Editing Anderson's If. . . ," in Screen (London), January-February 1969.

Canby, Vincent, in New York Times , March 1969.

Kael, Pauline, in New Yorker , New York, March 1969.

Spiers, David, in Screen (London), March-April 1969.

Cocks, Jay, in Time (New York), 21 March 1969.

Hartung, Philip, in Commonweal (New York), 21 March 1969.

Baker, Russell, "Observer: Youth Without Rose-Colored Glasses," in New York Times , 13 May 1969.

Ebert, Roger, in Chicago Sun Times , 1 June 1969.

Arnold, Gary, in Washington Post , 13 June 1969.

Corliss, Richard, "Hollywood and the Student Revolt," in National Review (New York), 17 June 1969.

Farber, Stephen, "Before the Revolution," in Hudson Review (New York), Autumn 1969.

Craddock, John, "If. . . High School Unless," in Film Society Review (New York), September 1969.

Young, Vernon, "Film Chronicle: Notes on the Compulsive Revolution," in Hudson Review (New York), Winter 1969.

Welsh, James, "Bergman and Anderson for Sophomores," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1971.

Jensen, N., "Lindsay Anderson—romantisk ironiker," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), November 1973.

Marszalek, Rafal, "Lindsay Anderson," in Kino (Warsaw), October 1974.

Rumalho, Jose Jorge, "Un Filme que Evoca Jean Vigo," in Celuloide (Rio Major, Portugal), November 1974.

Lovell, Alan, "Brecht in Britain—Lindsay Anderson," in Screen (London), Winter 1975.

Durgnat, Raymond, "Britannia Waives the Rules," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1976.

Hedling, E., "Han sag sig om i vrede," in Filmhaftet (Uppsala, Sweden), May 1990.

Sen, M., "La révolte des adolescents," in Positif (Paris), no. 400, June 1994.

Turcsanyi, S., "A szabadsag fantomjai," in Filmvilag (Budapest), vol. 37, no. 12, 1994.

* * *

Lindsay Anderson's film If. . . , related to Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name, has raised much debate politically, stylistically, and structurally, particularly concerning the director's use or misuse

of Brechtian theory. Based on a script by David Sherwin and John Howlett entitled Crusaders , the film uses the British public-school system as a microcosm of society to demonstrate the repression of the individual by authority. In the published screenplay of If. . . , Anderson also credits another source of inspiration for the film, Jean Vigo: "We especially saw ZĂ©ro de conduite again, before writing started, to give us courage."

The mid-1950s marked significant changes in Britain. The New Left emerged, the Free Cinema began, John Osborne was energizing the theater, and Brecht was re-discovered. It was also the period Anderson was writing for Sight and Sound . Not unexpectedly, the influences of that period can be traced to If. . . . The film has a sense of "documentary realism" (Osborne), surprising surrealistic passages (Free Cinema), a drive to overthrow authority (New Left), and a use of self-reflexive devices (Brecht).

If. . . functions predominantly within a kind of realism typical of classic narrative films, but one that is undercut by Brechtian concerns and surrealistic images. Anderson himself declared that "I think that If. . . is a rather Brechtian film." There are inherent difficulties with this statement (and regarding "Brechtian cinema" in general), but If. . . does exhibit two ostensible examples of the well-known verfremdungseffekt : the oft-cited black- and white-sections and the title cards. The film is constructed in a series of eight vignettes, each one introduced by a title card. The overall design conveys some idea of a chronology, but the ordering of the scenes could be altered without changing the thematic drive. This type of structural flexibility was central to Brecht's early writings. The use of black- and white-sections within a color film was entirely random, based on economic and practical considerations. Notwithstanding, both devices are meant to distance the spectator from the film, calling into question the production of the film as text and, theoretically, permitting cool observations of societal machinations. The fact that the fantasy sequences scattered throughout If. . . (the chaplain in a drawer, the naked woman at the cafe, the headmaster's wife wandering the empty corridors, and possibly the ending) are not delineated from the accepted diegetic reality reflects Anderson's belief that there are no rigid distinctions between what is real and what is fantasy. This use of surrealism blends nicely with the Brechtian aspects of the film in that it raises similar questions about constructed images and the supposed truth of realism.

To a lesser degree, If. . . also deals with sexuality, especially the repression of desires with its deleterious effects, and the covert homosexuality of an all-male school brought to the fore in certain relationships.

Anderson has said that no authority is necessary and that his sympathies are always with the revolutionaries. If. . . presents contradictions inherent in any authoritarian system and states that without resolution, radical action will be the only means of change—the quite literal "if" of the film.

—Greg S. Faller

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