Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, Rupert Webster, Robert Swann, Hugh Thomas, Michael Cadman, Peter Sproule, Peter Jeffrey, Anthony Nicholls, Arthur Lowe, Mona Washbourne, Mary MacLeod, Geoffrey Chater, Ben Aris, Graham Crowden, Charles Lloyd Pack, Guy Ross, Robin Askwith, Richard Everett, Philip Bagenal, Nicholas Page, Robert Yetzes, David Griffin, Graham Sharman, Richard Tombleson, Robin Davies, Brian Pettifer, Michael Newport, Charles Sturridge, Sean Bury, Martin Beaumont
Written by: David Sherwin, John Howlett
Directed by: Lindsay Anderson
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 112
Date: 12/19/1968
IMDB

If... (1968)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Black to School

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Lindsay Anderson's film is difficult to describe; it has moments of absurd comedy and moments of drama, moments of stark realism and moments of blatant non-realism. That the film flips back and forth from black-and-white to color footage doesn't make it any easier to pinpoint. But when it opened in 1968, it tapped directly into the mood of the moment and it became a phenomenon and a cultural landmark.

The basic theme has an old, rigid English boys school attempting to mold young minds with strict control, obedience and punishment. But the human soul finds new ways to squirm out the other side. Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is a free spirit who slowly realizes that he can't quite fit in; his will won't be broken. In the end, he and his cohorts attempt to take over the school with firearms. McDowell is part of the reason the film works so well. In his first movie role, he has a James Dean-type physicality, fearless and entrancing. If his confident stride doesn't hypnotize you, his gleaming dagger-sharp eyes will. Just check out his memorable entrance, swathed in black with a black hat and scarf around his face.

But Anderson is smart enough not to let Mick steal the picture. On the other side of the coin we have poor young frosh Jute (Sean Bury), just entering the school and learning its labyrinth of rules; he's frightened, but he still has his soul. Anderson was undoubtedly inspired by Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct (1933), and his film still seems relevant, leading directly to films like Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003). The title comes from the Rudyard Kipling poem. Anderson and McDowell returned with O Lucky Man! (1973), in which McDowell once again plays "Mick Travis."

In 2011, The Criterion Collection released an excllent Blu-Ray edition of their 2007 DVD, with a new high-definition digital transfer and uncompressed monaural soundtrack. Extras include an audio commentary with film critic and historian David Robinson Malcolm McDowell, interviews with McDowell, assistant director Stephen Frears, and more, and Anderson's Oscar-winning documentary Thursday's Children (1954). The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic David Ehrenstein and reprinted pieces by Sherwin and Anderson.

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