“When do we live? That’s what I want to know.”
The question, every syllable reasonable, comes from Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell, who can’t not look mischievous, as Stanley Kubrick no doubt took note of), the sort of student who decorates his dorm room wall with photographs of Vietnam War soldiers clutching their automatics. These adornments also play well into the over handed foreshadowing found in the film, which also includes classmates calling Mick “Guy Fawkes,” a moment focused on Munch’s The Scream and his horoscope urging immediate battle.
(There is no symbolism, however, to be found in filming some sequences in black and white, which even McDowell found arbitrary. And they are, serving no function except for director Lindsay Anderson to stand out and rebel like his young lads.)
Anderson’s If…, unlike its Us vs. Them predecessors like Zero for Conduct and The 400 Blows, lacks humor and/or commentary. Maybe that worked in 1969, when just about everybody outside of a suit had had enough. Maybe 40+ years ago, If… was a perfect representation of “out with the old, in with the new” and only hostile takeover, where its noble hero and his crusaders open fire on their oppressors from a rooftop, could get their attention.
But today, in a post-Columbine/Virginia Tech world, If… just seems wrong; it’s a demented fantasy with no other clear thought but violence.
Cast and Crew (42:07): This 2003 episode of the BBC Scotland-produced television series details the production, release and legacy of If… McDowell, director’s assistant Stephen Frears (whose The Hit was released by Criterion in 2009), producer Michael Medwin, cinematographer Miroslav Ondrícek, assistant editor Ian Rakoff, and screenwriter David Sherwin are all interviewed.
Graham Crowden (14:37): This interview, recorded in 2007 for Criterion’s DVD release, has actor Crowden discussing the film, his character of History Master and working with director Lindsay Anderson.
Thursday’s Children (22:09): Anderson’s 1955 documentary, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subjects and is narrated by Richard Burton, takes a look at The Royal School for Deaf Children Margate.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 32-page booklet featuring an essay titled “School Days” by critic David Ehrenstein and reprinted pieces by screenwriter David Sherwin and director Lindsay Anderson.