Monday, September 14, 2009

TOERIFC: If...

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk to wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

- Rudyard Kipling


At first reading, the poem if... is a pretty tall order. It asks a lot of a boy to be considered a man. But in truth, it's not that far off. A lot is asked of children. And expected of them. But the important part of Kipling's poem is the word IF. It says that you don't need to be ready now, but when you are indeed ready, then manhood or adulthood awaits. This is not the case at an all-boys school in England in which Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) attends. You
have to grow up. You must grow up. Because growing up means conforming. There is no if, only when.


The film begins as we see the children returning to school. Boxes are unpacked and stories are told in an effort to settle in and catch-up. It's here that director Lindsay Anderson begins to reveal the established hierarchy within the school. A younger student asks an older one a question and he's quickly reminded that he is not to speak to the older students. Amongst all this, we are first introduced to Mick Travis as he enters the school with a scarf around his face. He's keeping a well-groomed mustache under wraps. The scarf isn't on his face long, neither is his mustache, but it's an interesting look into Mick's character. He wants to hide his manhood because ultimately it means more would be expected of him. As a grown up, he would be expected to conform. He also wants to hide his rebellion. A mustache would certainly be frowned upon (Mick and his friends are often being for their long hair) and would start his year off on the wrong side of the Whips, a group of self-appointed seniors who enforce order. Although he's not parading it around, he knows its there and his quiet dissent is enough for him. At least for now.

On the surface, the story of if... is simple enough. It follows life within the walls of a an all-boys school in England. Of course, life within the walls is not simple. Even without weapons, an all-boys school is a powder keg just waiting to go off. As my son enters his teen years, I can't imagine a worse thing than to send him away to school. These are such important years. To realize emotions. To test boundaries. To explore independence. Only all of those things run counter to the mission of a private school. As a result, you create two types of students. Those who aspire to be Whips and those who don't. Being a Whip not only represents complete conformity to the establishment, it represents a crusaders mentality. What's funny is that Mick and his friends Wallace (Richard Warwick) and Johnny (David Wood) never really act-out in the true sense of the word. They are not disrespectful in class. They are not bullies in the hallways (they're rebellion is really nothing more than sitting in a room drinking and smoking). It's their disinterest that gets them into trouble. Because they are not openly falling-in-line, they are seen as out-of-line.


What I liked most about
if... is the way that Anderson tells the story. His camera is so loose that the film comes off almost as if it is a documentary. Nothing seems staged. Or acted out. It appears as if Anderson just happens to be in the right place to catch life happening among these students. Because of this, there's a subtlety to the message that I appreciated. It's hard to watch this and not rifle through all the other movies you've seen about private schools or teen rebellion. Movies like Taps, Battle Royale, Brick, The Outsiders, The Blackboard Jungle and A Clockwork Orange to name a very few. Of course, when watching the ending of the film, one can't help but think of the Columbine massacre and Van Sant's Elephant. But what I appreciated about this film is that I didn't feel bludgeoned about the head at the end of it. In the end, Mick's rebellion against the school is no more harmful a gesture than growing his mustache. Anderson didn't feel the need to have a bloodbath to hit home his point. And what's further, he didn't feel the need to show moments of Mick and his friends boiling over to build for the climax. There were no scenes where Mick declares his inability to take it any more. Or his declaration of vengeance for one of the Whips. The pre-meditation is barely there. It's almost as if the guys said "hey, let's give this a try and see how it goes." Modern day cinema could take a page from this.


There are elements of this film that are either so noticeable, or so pivotal to the movie that they must be mentioned. The first one is the use of color and black and white in the film. It's not as alarming to someone who has sat through an Oliver Stone movie, but I can only imagine how interesting it would have been at the time. I tried to put rhyme and reason to it, but then discovered I was missing the point. To me, the use of black and white is Anderson further blurring the lines between fact and fantasy within the story. And speaking of fantasy, there's The Girl (Christine Noonan) who makes periodic appearances throughout the film. In my mind, she could be a lot of things. A muse. An animal instinct. Or she could simply be Mick's manhood. By being the curvy, voluptuous thing she is, she literally represents Mick's desire. And finally, there are the homosexual undertones that run throughout the film. Anderson treats this with the subtlety of the rest of the film. With the Whips, it's seen as another act of conformity. While in their room, they speak of their young assistants almost as lovers and Rowntree (Robert Swan) even goes as far as prodding another Whip to get a cuter assistant. And maybe one of the most interesting scenes in the movie watches a young student Bobby Phillips (Rupert Webster) gaze upon Wallace as he performs a gymnastics routine. While this is one of the scenes that feels more staged in its framing, it's still handled beautifully by Anderson because he lets the camera tell the story. When the two appear in bed later, it's not shocking because they have already shared that previous moment.

All of this builds to the climactic finale of the film. What I think is interesting is that the discipline of the school is driven by the students (the Whips), not the faculty. But the attack by Wallace and company is clearly aimed at the entire school. It's the individual that's the oppressor, and yet everyone is lumped together as one large foe. As a judgment call made by a confused and angry teenager, I understand it. But as a larger statement about tearing down walls, I find it a bit confusing. I suppose one could say that the Whips are a product of the establishment, but I'm not sure I'm sold on that. It's clear that Rowntree is behind the school's strict standards. That they are driving it, not being driven to it. There's a scene with Rowntree and the Headmaster, where it's clear that Rowntree is leading the charge. The Headmaster agrees to this, but does so reluctantly. And if the Whips are the establishment, then why not go after them individually? This story almost begs for peaceful resistance. For Mick and his friends to break down the hierarchy that exists with the students. But how do you do that by killing all of them? Of course, no one really dies, but it's almost as if Lindsay Anderson is so fed up with the whole thing, he's preaching a complete cleansing to start all over again. Mick says "war is the last possible creative act." It's a strange statement to make, but he's not talking about one Super Power taking on another. He's talking about taking on the establishment. And when you do that, in an act of creativity, all the rules must be broken.

I am not old enough to be a child of the 60s. I missed it by a couple of years, so I was not alive to experience the true significance of this film. But over 40 years later, it's message still rings true. We say our kids grow up so fast as if it's a bad thing, but the truth is we want them to. We want them to act like men, or women, so they behave. And there's no if about it. It would be nice to say that 40 years later, a lot has changed from this message, but in truth it hasn't. Out in the open, we champion individuality and creativity, but behind doors, we try to suppress it. Because creativity, by nature, challenges the rules. And conformity is so much easier a subject to teach.

So those are my thoughts. And I reserve the right to be completely wrong about all of it. What are yours?

And bonus points to the person who can tell me how many times I used the word "if."

127 comments:

Ed Howard said...

Fantastic writeup, Piper, and I'm really glad you picked this film; I loved it and I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to watch it.

You do a good job of picking out the film's themes: it's about oppression and the pressure of conformity, the way the society envisioned in this film is basically grooming its children to be perfect automaton-soldiers, always ready to take orders and do what they're told. The rebellion of the three central characters thus amounts to a failure to fall into line so easily, a skepticism about the social order that's unacceptable in a school where obedience and uniformity are the prime virtues.

What I especially loved about the film was its slow progress towards a dreamlike, surrealist break with reality. Yes, as you point out, many of the film's scenes are realist and naturalistic, which only makes it more disconcerting when, in the latter half of the film, reality begins falling apart. It all starts when Mick and Johnny first meet the Girl, and she begins seducing Mick into an animalistic frenzy. This is the down-the-rabbit-hole moment, a scene that's obviously part of the boys' fantasy life. After this, dreams and fantasies begin intruding more and more frequently, making the finale an act of imagination and wish fulfillment in which the three boys strike back against the established order. I also read a final irony in this violent ending, in that the three boys, indoctrinated by a cruel, oppressive culture, can only imagine, even in their fantasies, a violent and fatalistic response.

Greg said...

Pat, great job. I've seen this film many times and it's a favorite from 1968 and on any given day I'd say it's the best from that year.

I like your recognition of Mick and crew doing nothing to gather the punishing eye of the whips because I think that is what places this movie on another level than many of the youthful protest/hippie rebellion attitudes one would expect of this time: fighting against the powers that be for justice or peace or morality. Not Mick and crew. They are singled out because they are apathetic and that drives the Whips insane with rage. Mick. doesn't. give a shit.

The final shootout is apathetic as well. It says nothing, declares nothing, reveals nothing. It's pointless except as a release of energy. It does not even contain the narcissistic vengeance of modern day acts.

That's my starting off statement for now. I'd like to explore the whole idea of British board schooling and the power of it's myth that it has over British filmmakers and musicians but I'll let others join in for now. Thanks again for a great write-up.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

We had to say this poem in school from memory. It is a nice poem though.

PIPER said...

Ed,

Even after the scene with The Girl, what really took me back was when Mick shot at one of the teachers. It was obvious that he just scared him, but then you wondered if he actually killed him. Later, you see him come out of that coffin like drawer and accept Mick's apology. Of all the things I missed in my write-up I'm sorry I didn't write about that scene. It's so wild and almost Monty Python-like in its absurdity.

Thanks for the props. I spent a lot of time with this piece and have never really written a piece this in-depth for a first time movie. Like you, I have had this on the shelf and been meaning to watch it for a long time. And like you, I'm sorry I waited this long. But I'm glad we saw it.

PIPER said...

And sorry about the font being what it is. It's seems a bit scattered. I've desperately tried to fix it, but I can't seem to.

Greg said...

Ed, you just saw this for the first time? I'm glad you liked it so much as I think it's simply wonderful. As a young man watching this film on cable and video I was always fascinated by the tiger fight in the cafe. I was never sure, and maybe still not, if Mick ever had any contact with the girl after she slapped him. Obviously her appearances after that (across the halls in a window, suddenly appearing in the cellar) are imaginary and it intrigued me that a film would physically personify something I couldn't yet understand in that way. Just brilliant.

PIPER said...

Greg,

Thanks. It kind of goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. TOERIFC is a fantastic thing. A brilliant discovery and I'm glad I'm part of it. As a writer by nature, this is good work for me and it makes my brain work in new and different ways than I'm accustomed to on any given day. Plus, I get to discover great movies that I normally wouldn't have.

I like your point about the ending. It is apathetic. The write-up in the booklet included with my Criterion copy makes it seem so profound, but really it's not. And I don't know that Anderson meant it to be. He didn't even give it much time. I remember watching the film and saying to myself, okay he's got about 5 minutes to bring this baby to a climax. That's not much time, we'll have to see what happens.

Greg said...

And Pat, a minor edit, but it's been 41 years, not fifty although I guess nine years doesn't make much of a difference. If you go to html edit and remove all the "div" in closed arrows that you see and add a "p" in closed arrows at the starting paragraph of the piece and a closed "p" at the end, that should fix the font. But don't feel you have to, it looks fine to me.

PIPER said...

Greg,

Regarding the Girl. That's why I wondered if she were some kind of Muse to him. Animal Instinct is a little too overt, and a little too obvious for me. Like I said in my post, it could be his manhood. Mick could be seeing his final act as an act of manhood and she is pushing him towards it.

PIPER said...

Made the change to the years. Thanks for the catch.

Pat said...

Pat -

Great write up and a good choice. It took me a while to warm up to it, and I had to watch parts of it twice to fully appreciate them, but it was definitely worth the effort.

I'm a little scattered today, and probably won't be here as much I'd like to be. One scene I found very interesting is when Mick is shooting rubber darts at the pictures on the wall - it's kind of interesting which targets he hits. That final dart aimed at the queen's carriage - you're sure it's going to hit the queeen herself, but then it doesn't - and it still feels sinister and like a foreshadowing of worse to come.

Greg said...

Yes Pat, the climax is incredibly quick but if it is just an acting out of fantasy that feels about right. While the girl signals it's Mick's fantasy, especially the crossed-eyed death of the headmaster, what about the fire? That kind of lazy destruction would feel about right for Mick.

And what about Jute? Why is he given his own separate story? Is he a young Mick before apathy sets in? Is his difficulty in mastering the names an indication he is just as bored by all this as Mick? Is the school a microcosm of Britain in the filmmakers' minds? Are the whips a form of local enforcement and the faculty an ineffectual royalty/parliament? Just asking.

Rick Olson said...

Pat, great choice and writeup. I'm just checking in, but will be back in an hour or so.

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, I just saw this for the first time for this discussion. It's one of those films I've had on DVD for ages, ever since the Criterion came out, and never gotten around to it, even though I already liked Anderson's Free Cinema short films.

I definitely don't think Mick had any contact with the Girl after she slaps him. He walks over to the jukebox then, puts on the African "Sanctus" that he loves so much, and simply stands there staring at his feet, dreaming. He's still too crude and immature to actually know how to properly start a relationship with a girl like that, so he imagines what it would be like instead. Their tiger-like copulation is his inexperienced vision of what sex with her would be like.

One thing I find interesting, behind the scenes, is that that scene is in the film because Malcom McDowell was infatuated with Christine Noonan, and asked Anderson if they could shoot a nude scene together, since he wanted to see her naked (and who could blame him?). Noonan said OK, so they did it. It's an amazing scene, and one that deepens the movie, but I think it's funny (and sort of troubling) that it was shot at all primarily because McDowell was about as much of a horny, awkward teen as the character he was playing.

PIPER said...

Pat,

That's a great scene and good foreshadowing at the apathetic ending. A shot in the carriage is not as bad as a shot in the head. Mick's intentions are not as bad as we feared.

Another piece that I failed to mention in my write-up is Mick's room. I love how so much time was spent in that room, cutting out pictures to be placed along the wall. It plays towards the oppression of the school. Mick has to live his life through pictures on his walls.

Ed Howard said...

RE: Jute - The film is about the indoctrination of the young, so it makes sense that the film includes a cross-section of younger students to show how the process works over time. When the new students arrive, they're intimidated and immediately taught that they must bow to those above them, that they must learn by rote all the strange rules and language of this new place, that they must do everything possible to fit in, to do exactly what's expected of them. Jute goes along with it, though he seems kind of melancholy and beaten-down by the whole process: maybe, when he's older, he'll become another Mick, or maybe he'll just be yet another sad conformist, towing the line and doing what's expected of him. But for me one of the film's most haunting shots comes during the priest's speech about the boys being soldiers fighting for God, and Jute just looks back, directly at the camera, with this horribly sad and pleading look in his eyes, as though saying, "but I don't want to be a soldier."

PIPER said...

Greg,

There may have been a bigger story with Jute. But I mostly took him as a device to showcase the hierarchy that existed in the school. Without him, we really don't see the entire story.

But I would guess that the whips represent a larger picture, just as the homosexual undertones represent a gay movement that was happening in Britain at the time. At least, that's what I read.

Kevin J. Olson said...

I need to make this quick and then I'll be back...BUT...great piece, Piper.

I'm with Greg on the ending, which startled me with its apathy. I was expecting a more typical (and what now seems banal) 60's revolution type film (especially considering Anderson's history being a co-founder of the Free Cinema movement), but was pleasantly surprised when the film started taking me down the rabbit hole as Ed so wonderfully put it. I was more than happy to take the surreal trip.

I was listening to part of the audio commentary and there was mention that a lot of the moments that are attributed to surreal filmmaking (sepia tone, black and white, etc.) were actually just lighting issues that they had to fix somehow. Apparently the school's windows were so huge and letting in so much light that McDowell claims it was impossible with the amount of time they were given to shoot to shoot some of the scenes in color. I thought that was interesting...and shows that sometimes in filmmaking there are these happy accidents that add to the film (much like the famous visual correlative in In Cold Blood with the raindrops acting as tears on Blake's face).

Anyway...great write-up, Piper. I'll be back later.

PIPER said...

Thanks Rick,

Come back soon.

PIPER said...

Kevin,

That's fricking hilarious about the black and white scenes. I've been reading some about this film and reading everyone, including me, trying to make reason of it. A classic example of how we try to look into everything and sometimes, it's just a happy accident.

bill r. said...

This is a very unusual film, all right. I saw it first in college, in a class on British Films (interesting subject, awful class), and didn't see it again until a couple of months ago. It's a tough film in some ways, because things don't mean what you think they are supposed to mean, and aren't presented in the way you think they would be. For instance, that shootout at the end is a total cartoon. The film goes from being basically realistic to a presentation of violence that is nearly free of any actual violence. It could be seen, I suppose, as symbolizing the battle between the counter-culture and the establishment, and how it was ultimately sort of pointless, since both still exist, nobody won.

As for the black and white: I don't say this to point out that anyone's interpretation is wrong, but I thought it was interesting on the commentary track that someone pointed out that the b&w scenes had no meaning in their b&w-ness. I can't remember why the shot their first b&w scene, but when Anderson saw it, he loved the look, and basically said, "Let's do more of this. It doesn't matter when or where or which scene. Let's just decide on the day."

Greg said...

Ed, interesting you mention that shot of Jute. I chose that for my post yesterday for the very reason that it is one of the strongest moments for me in the film and why I believe Jute the character is more than just a device to guide us through the school although he is certainly that as well.

I also chose to use the picture of Mick for the sidebar banner because that is the moment that he says, "one man can change the world with a bullet in the right place." True indeed and yet Mick cannot even muster up the energy to do that, select a target and go with it. Mick uses platitudes of rebellion because he still has no idea what his real feelings are, something my wife and I experienced with our oldest.

And the backstory about the cafe scene, I had no idea. Hilarious!

Ed Howard said...

Kevin's right about the lighting. It started because the cinematographer told Anderson that the chapel scenes wouldn't look right if shot in color, so they did those in b&w. Then Anderson liked it so much that he decided to randomly intersperse other b&w scenes throughout the film. It definitely does add a surrealist, disjunctive undercurrent to the film, further breaking with reality. I also noticed that many of the most surrealist scenes -- the tiger fight, the nude school administrator walking through the empty dorms -- were shot in b&w, confounding the traditional assumption that b&w is for verite while color can be more lurid. There's no one explanation for the alternations, which I like: it's mysterious and inexplicable.

Fox said...

Hey Piper (and everyone else)-

This was thought provoking pick, to say the least, but I can't say I liked it.

Perhaps it's because if... is a film out of time, or, a film indedbted to a specific time (I imagine that many of Mick's radical fantasies were tied to Paris '68), but I couldn't connect to it's youthful rebellion at all. I was perplexed by the shifting in tone. At points, I felt that Anderson was going for farce, and at times I felt that he was reaching back to his serious earlier days of British realism. It was an odd mix for me.

I wish he would have stuck with farce, because there was a ridiculousness about the Whips and the Crusaders. They're both full of youthful arrogance and superiority, but I think Anderson kind of betrays that at the end when he gives the Crusaders the moral victory.

I guess, in the end, I thought there were lots of interesting ideas in this film that kept being pushed aside by its maker.

PIPER said...

Brill R.

Thanks for joining. I think you're right about the end fight symbolizing a pointless battle. It is very cartoon-like. And you're right about the B&W. Kevin pointed out exactly what you did.

kassy said...

This was the first Toerifc selection that I already had in my queue and like some others, this was my first time watching it.

I haven't had my coffee yet so I might not be coherent (7:37 am for me) but through a lot of the movie I was feeling as if I was waiting for something, I think I was waiting for Mick and company to actually do something worth a caning. The fact that it was their apathy that gets them punished was for me far more disturbing than if they had actually done something bad. And when the man is in the drawer I think I was waiting for the Monty Python troupe to show up.

I was wondering if the Girl was Mick's courage to act out physically in a way that he had only thought of before? is that the same as manhood?

Kevin J. Olson said...

There's no one explanation for the alternations, which I like: it's mysterious and inexplicable.

Kind of like why teenagers choose to rebel against what it is they think they need to rebel against. It's not that subtle in if..., the purpose of the revolt is made quite clear, but how many people have we all met where they seem to be against something just because it's counter culture or because the majority of their friends are against it?

I would posit that most teenagers who choose to rise up against something are "mysterious and inexplicable" in their reasoning because they haven't learned how to reason like an adult. I'm nbot saying that to put teenagers down, but when I asked my staudents last year why they wanted Obama as their president they couldn't give me one example of his policies that they liked.

PIPER said...

Fox,

I can't say I disagree with your comments. It is a mixed bag of techniques and statements. At one moment, very documentary-like and another, very well-framed. And again, I go back to the professor coming out of the coffin like drawer. It was completely absurd and counter to everything we had seen thus far.

But I would have to say that I like that, for much the same reason that I like the films I've seen from the 60s and 70s. It's this kind of fuck-it attitude. An exploration of all things. I don't think you can put it in a linear structure and I don't know that Anderson wanted it to be viewed as that.

Ed Howard said...

Fox, I don't think Anderson gives the rebels a "moral victory" in the climax at all. Their rebellion quickly turns into a pointless war game, just like the ones they'd been rebelling against in the first place. One of the tragedies of the film, for me, is that the society depicted here is so stifling, so cruel, that even its rebels can't entirely escape the trap. David Ehrenstein, in the Criterion booklet essay, interprets the ending as a real victory for the forces of imagination and creativity, and to some extent it is, but it's hardly the triumphant ending he sees it as. Anderson undoubtedly sympathizes with the dreamers and outcasts rather than with the conformist authoritarians, but he doesn't give these dreamers a true victory. There's hope, maybe, in their capacity to imagine an alternative to the status quo, but their alternative turns out to be simply burning it all down in an act of rage. Not much of a "moral victory."

Marilyn said...

Here's the opening of my review written many moons ago: "Where would English creatives be without their public schools? So many books and films have come down to us over the years telling us what a rotten life it is for boys in English boarding schools that I have to wonder why the government hasn't shut them all down as an act of mercy. Of course, without the strife of a public school education, the monied classes in England would have precious little to gripe about. So here we are, watching Lindsay Anderson (via his stand-in, Malcolm McDowell) cry into his G&T over his mistreatment at the hands of older boys, dotty instructors, and a corrupt, self-important headmaster, and fantasize his revenge."

I wasn't terribly impressed with this film because of the place of privilege from which the class structure of Britain was being critiqued (obviously, from my comments). Yet, I liked the spirit of rebellion that it embraced. Unfortunately, the people most in need of rebelling will not be able to identify with this gang of miscreants. The Angry Young Man movement resulted in punk rock and little else.

bill r. said...

Kevin pointed out exactly what you did...

That'll teach me to scan the comments.

Fox, to be honest, I wasn't crazy about the shifts into farce, either. The problem is that it's sort of essential to the film. I don't know how you present a gun battle as half-assed unless you shift gears pretty wildly.

So when do we watch O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital?

PIPER said...

Kassy,

Thanks for joining. I think you're right. The girl is his courage. The courage that he lacks due to immaturity or horrible character flaws.

I think if you're like me, you're accustomed to seeing something come to an extreme climax. I think modern cinema has programmed us to expect that. Even in movie trailers now, we're always waiting for that one last climactic scene to promise something greater.

Fox said...

And when the man is in the drawer I think I was waiting for the Monty Python troupe to show up....

Kassy-

That's the kind of stuff that worked for me. I wish if... would have catered more to that tone.

It's like when one of the Whips is almost making out with his cane in an early scene, or when Mick is excited & pround by the sight of blood on his hand during a fantasy fencing sequence against tyranny, or when the Whip asks a scum to warm his toilet seat, or the caricature of the bike riding teacher. I like these ridiculous moments more than the serious.

The black & white photography really distracted me.

PIPER said...

Marilyn,

Great point about the boarding schools. I've never seen a movie involving a boarding school where the school itself wasn't a character in the movie. It's either a sexual playground, or a strict institution that causes students to rebel or kill themselves.

Fox said...

Fox, I don't think Anderson gives the rebels a "moral victory" in the climax at all. Their rebellion quickly turns into a pointless war game, just like the ones they'd been rebelling against in the first place....

But Ed, Anderson - as you said - clearly sympathized with the Crusaders. He gives then a kind of spiritual send off by ending on a close-up of Mick firing his machine gun and then cutting to the title "if..." on screen again. It's like he's saying "if only...". It's like a massacre fantasy.

I think it would have been interesting had Anderson explored the conformity of both the Whips and the Crusaders equally. It's like in Mick's little vodka room. All of the pictures on the wall. That's just anti-establishment conformity that many youths go through.

Fox said...

Bill-

I'm glad you mentioned Britannia Hospital, because I think that is a movie where Anderson knocks the ridiculousness of both sides pretty well. I much prefer it to if....

Greg said...

Perhaps it's because if... is a film out of time, or, a film indedbted to a specific time (I imagine that many of Mick's radical fantasies were tied to Paris '68), but I couldn't connect to it's youthful rebellion at all.

For me, the movie is out of time not in a specific time. Because of the cloistering within the school it could be any time (obviously outside of fashions or mentions of hair). But more importantly, and with experience from teenagers right here at my house, this is teenage rebellion. It is not about anything and never is because teenagers have nothing to rebel against! It's just that they don't realize that until years later when they suddenly have REAL PROBLEMS! That's why I also disagree with Marilyn's take. This is the perfect setting for this type of story because the rebels being privileged makes it even more biting. Teenagers who live in Calcutta and survive on bark soup have no time or money to rebel. That's the point.

Ed Howard said...

Fox, I think you're approaching the film a bit too much from the perspective of today, when the punk movement has turned a lot of the stuff seen here into just a different conformist subculture, as commodified and packaged as anything else. But Mick and his friends, whatever their limitations and failings, are genuine rebels in the context of this school. They choose not to go along with the program, not to make the grand shows of obedience that are expected of them. Yes, any kid today making collages like that would be simply aping a lot of punk imagery, but I don't think that was necessarily the case in 1969. The film is very much a 1968 film, a film of its specific time and place, much like the late 60s films of Godard, who Anderson admired; the Free Cinema movement was inspired by the New Wave and programmed some of the early New Wave films in Britain, and Anderson obviously continued to track the progress of those filmmakers from afar.

bill r. said...

Fox, you can hardly call that ending a real massacre. If Anderson wanted to present a "massacre fantasy", we would have something closer to Peckinpah that what Anderson actually did.

Ed Howard said...

Hah, Greg and I posted at more or less the same time to make exactly opposite points. Obviously, the film is easily universalized to be about pointless, angry teen rebellion in any time and place, but I think that undervalues the specificities of the British school system that are being satirized here, and also the specific response to the atmosphere of amorphous rebellion and desire for change that was in the air in 1968.

Greg said...

but I think that undervalues the specificities of the British school system that are being satirized here...

but the British school system isn't being taken on here, as evidenced by the students being in charge of everything. It's just where it takes place, providing our pointless teen rebellion with a structure to whine about.

Marilyn said...

Teenagers who live in Calcutta and survive on bark soup have no time or money to rebel. That's the point.

Really. Is that what it means to be a rebel? As far as I know, the serious rebellions of the past have come from the oppressed classes. Mick is destined to grow up to be a radical chic pillar of whatever community he's a part of. War is the last creative act? He might just end up being Winston Churchill. He LOOKS like a 60s rebel who would have been comfortable at Kent State or Berkeley, but that's not his fate - just as it wasn't for those 60s rads who became the go-goers of the 80s.

Ed Howard said...

but the British school system isn't being taken on here, as evidenced by the students being in charge of everything. It's just where it takes place, providing our pointless teen rebellion with a structure to whine about.

I don't know. I didn't go to a British boarding school, but from what I've read, this film presents an accurate, detailed account of the specific kinds of abuses and absurdities present in that system, including the Whips. Look at the IMDb boards (I know, not usually a reliable source) and you'll see lots of Brits checking in to say, essentially, "I went to a school just like this!" I think Anderson definitely intended to satirize that specific system. Yes, the film's themes are deeper than that and it's about teen rebellion in its broader sense, but that doesn't negate the specific elements in the film that satirize how the British school system brutalizes its young charges.

Fox said...

They choose not to go along with the program, not to make the grand shows of obedience that are expected of them. Yes, any kid today making collages like that would be simply aping a lot of punk imagery, but I don't think that was necessarily the case in 1969. ...

I disagree. I think you are giving Mick and the Crusaders too much credit. Look at the scene in the history teacher's classroom. Yes, Mick impresses the teach with an answer, but when the professor tries to engage them in a discussion of revisionist history, they look dumbfounded. They ain't too tuned in, nor are tuned in to the rebellion that they fantasize about and see in LIFE magazine.

And Bill, I agree that the ending is spoofy and not realistic, but I still see it as a massacre fantasy.

PIPER said...

But I think the irony is that the system IS being taken on, when really the system isn't at fault. The professors within the school are sympathetic characters. Even when Mick is being scolded for his attack at the end, it's not a harsh scolding. Certainly not as harsh as what he got from the Whips for doing practically nothing.

bill r. said...

But Fox, where's the "massacre" part? Almost nobody is killed in that entire scene.

Ed Howard said...

The system IS the Whips. The professors are notable mainly for standing by doing nothing, allowing the brutality to occur beneath the surface. Think of the scene where the Whips meet with that wimpy, ineffectual school administrator, and he just sort of meekly murmurs a few words and lets them do whatever they want, essentially condoning their violence towards Mick and his friends.

It's a system designed to turn young kids into conformist, authoritarian, brutish thugs, perfect soldier ants for the establishment.

Fox said...

Almost nobody is killed in that entire scene....

Dude... there's bodies all over the ground!

OK, it's not thousands, but there are plenty of bodies flopped over when the masses start pouring out of the church.

Marilyn said...

It is often the people with the most to lose who reinforce the system. In the case of the school, the teachers no doubt have tenure and have nothing to fear from upheaval. They will dodder into their pensions clutching their decades-old curricula to their bosoms.

No, it is the Whips, who will graduate to ruling positions in British society, who must ensure that the apple cart isn't tipped. That's why they are the enforcers of a system that, basically, the school doesn't participate in.

Ed Howard said...

I disagree. I think you are giving Mick and the Crusaders too much credit.

Clearly, Mick and his friends are ignorant and inexperienced and have basically no idea what they're doing, what they want, or anything else. When that one teacher makes an attempt -- the only attempt in the film -- to really provoke thought in these kids, they just stare back blankly at him, maybe because they're so unused to being asked provocative questions like that, maybe because they just don't get that, in talking about a populace willingly allowing fascism and brutality to flourish, he's talking about them, and about himself as well. Part of the point is that their rebellion is empty and meaningless.

At the same, it's not like it's an invalid rebellion, and in the context of this school, where complete obedience is expected in order to prepare these kids for a life of servitude, it's a genuine rebellion simply to say "I don't care." In that sense, Mick and the Crusaders are genuine rebels, if misguided and limited rebels.

Marilyn said...

They are NOT being prepared for a life of servitude. They are being prepared for a life of domination!

Ed Howard said...

A little of both, no, Marilyn? They're being taught to give orders and to take them. Some will become the new oppressors while the rest will be suitably docile subjects.

Greg said...

Fox, thanks for bringing up the history class. I love that scene because to me at least it demonstrates that when given the chance to really, truly discuss ideas, Mick is at a loss. Real rebellion, understanding a system and changing it from within, is too much work. Takes away from daydreaming about slaughtering everyone.

Ed, I agree that it is probably an accurate take on the abuses in the system I am just placing more importance on the general ideas about teen rebellion in the film than the specific targeting of the boarding school I suppose.

Greg said...

I think Marilyn and Ed are both right. The ones inflicting the punishments and ratting out others are preparing for a life of domination. The ones learning how to properly say the names of their elders while trembling are preparing for a life of servitude. Mick is preparing for a life of freedom by not taking part in any of it.

Fox said...

Not to turn away from current discussions, but what did y'all gather from the younger, newer, students? Specifically Lute.

I started thinking that maybe Anderson was telling us that he would be Mick in four years??

Marilyn said...

So are we to take this film shows us the three strata of any civilized society: the rulers, the ruled, and the artists who stand outside it and bray? Is this Anderson's autobiography? I think it is, and it is a rather simplistic one.

Fox said...

Ed, Marilyn, and Greg-

It's hard for me to know since I went to American public schools, but are any of these games of domination and submission much different than bullying or the "stoners vs. jocks" class wars etc. that happened with us?

Obviously, the bullying is much more organized and structured in a boarding school like we see in "if..." where the Whips clearly have authority and carry sticks of punishment, but how much of it is boys being boys? After all, Mick and his crew aren't that oppressed. They have a hangout with nudie pictures on the wall.

If we're led to believe that if... is about pointless youthful rebellion (a point I'm not sure if I agree with, or not), then shouldn't we assume that the authority (ie establishment) of the Whips is a fantasy as well? Won't they turn into apathetic old men who ride their bikes through corridors or own motorcycle shops?

kassy said...

Not to turn away from current discussions, but what did y'all gather from the younger, newer, students? Specifically Lute.

I started thinking that maybe Anderson was telling us that he would be Mick in four years??


That's something I would really like to see, which way did Jute end up going? The other boys his age (the Scum?) were so merciless in their efforts to get him to conform, especially the scene where he has to memorize not only what to say but how to say it. And then in the church where he looks back at the Bishop (?) he looks so sad. Jute seemed so scared and meek that I can't imagine him rebelling on his own, I think he would need someone like Mick for inspiration. But then again the fight at the end might scare him so much that he could end up retreating into himself even further.

Greg said...

Kassy, I asked about Jute earlier, rhetorically. I believe Jute is Lindsay Anderson's representative, and thus ours as well, a normal person looking in on this world of dominators and scared children, wondering how to make sense of it all.

Marilyn said...

Jute (Jude?) was dropped from the story so quickly that I couldn't really make a connection with the rest of the film. He and the younger boys were not given any space in this film, which quickly became dominated by the charismatic McDowell.

As for "boys will be boys," I don't believe in that adage at all. Boys are taught to be boys. If I have any admiration for the film, it is for the way it highlights how wickedly boys' spirits are broken by society, just as girls' are. There is nothing innate about these behaviors; they are social norms.

PIPER said...

Fox,

I have never attended a private school and don't know anyone who has. But I'll tell you that it's not unlike my years in a college fraternity where hazing was a major part of my life for the first year. Hazing was there for the same reason the Whips are there. To supposedly treat me respect for the system. But it did was create more bullies to fill in the gaps when they were finally initiated into the system. It's a bad circle.

And regarding the climax of the film. There are a lot of people on the ground, but I felt more like they were taking cover, instead of being shot.

Marilyn,

I think the system that Anderson has set up is pretty accurate. Simplistic, but accurate.

PIPER said...

Here's some other food for thought. Something that occurred to me while watching this film and writing the piece. As parents, aren't we guilty of reinforcing the system? I am in a creative position, but I often find myself asking my son to grow up and have manners and be respectful and follow orders and whatnot. Both of my children will always be outcasts. I'm proud of that, but at the same time it unnerves me at times. When it comes to our public school system, it's very obvious that they do not celebrate creativity and individuality. That they want brochure kids, which my kids are not and will never be.

Marilyn said...

Piper - Which is exactly what bothers me about it. Another public school story, this one with less nuance, but more pseudo-60s panache. I'd take either version of The Winslow Boy over it any day; that showed the real cost of taking on the system. This just feels like Anderson getting his public school experience out of his system.

Greg said...

shouldn't we assume that the authority (ie establishment) of the Whips is a fantasy as well? Won't they turn into apathetic old men who ride their bikes through corridors or own motorcycle shops?

I think that's a good point. One thing decades out of high school has taught me is that the clique leaders became just as powerless to the world around them as everyone else. The Whips will grow up to chase the next teen that steals their motorcycle and then go home and bitch to their wives about it and then go to the club to reminisce about the good old days.

PIPER said...

Marilyn,

It's a fair point to say that Anderson set up to buck the system but really didn't. I found it sort of a relief, but it does come off pointless.

Marilyn said...

Just watch the "Up" series by Michael Apted to show how deep the social programming goes.

And as for your kids, Piper, of course schools prefer kids who behave. When you have a classroom of 30 or more students, decorum goes a long way with teachers. That's one of the reasons girls tend to score more highly in school - they behave, and teachers appreciate it. It's part of the acculturation.

Fox said...

As parents, aren't we guilty of reinforcing the system? I am in a creative position, but I often find myself asking my son to grow up and have manners and be respectful and follow orders and whatnot....

Piper-

I'm not a parent, so I don't have the perspective that you and Greg and others have, but I think that inforcing the boundaries you speak of (manners, respect, etc.) are positive. Of course, it's for each parent to decide how to raise their own children, but I would see the way you're raising your children as being anything akin to the structure of the boarding school in if....

Fox said...

Piper-

Oops... I meant I wouldn't see the discipline structure in if... to be anything like what you are doing as a parent.

Moviezzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PIPER said...

Fox,

It's a mixed bag, though. I DO find myself rushing my kids to grow up so, not unlike the teachers or the Whips, don't have to worry about them getting out of line.

This is how it works.

You want your kid to crawl. But once they crawl, you want them to stop crawling out of the room because you then have to be responsible for them. In effect, you don't want them to explore new boundaries.

Then you want them to walk, but not far because again, you then have to be responsible for them and guide them.

Then they talk and you want them to shut up and listen to orders.

I don't follow that to the rule, but I'm guilty of it. As I'm sure all parents are. But I thought it curious that all parents are probably guilty of reinforcing the system that they would openly denounce, but secretly, and maybe unknowingly, support.

Rick Olson said...

Ah, how long ago the 60s ... I was 16 when If.... came out.

Whoever said -- maybe it was Ed -- that folks aren't looking at it in context is right on the money. The little things seemed so 60s ... the lascivious looks of the chaplain when he heard the confession of the boy, when he put his hands down Jute's shirt. When this was made, these critiques were daring in film, now they're artifacts.

I believe Ed also said something along the lines of: just because the rebellion fantasy was apathetic, doesn't mean that the sentiment behind it was wrongheaded. I think I agree: a system finely tuned to produce military fodder that will be ordered into battle to protect the property of the likes of Rowntree doesn't need to be rebelled against?

The film showed acutely how the structures of British society -- the Church, the educational system, etc. -- all dovetail nicely to protect the privileged-class privilege. That it hasn't changed doesn't mean working against it is not worthwhile.

Marilyn said...

Piper - Freedom without responsibility is anarchy. That should be every parent's mantra, and it goes for their kids as well as them.

You don't want a 2 year old running freely. He or she could fall off a pier. You don't want a school child to speak whenever he or she feels like it. How will the lesson be heard?

You shouldn't have to debate every request; it's reasonable to ask a child to do something if he or she is able. It's called accepting responsibility. Children need to learn that as much as they need to learn to question rules and statements that make no sense.

Fox said...

But Piper -

It sounds to me that you are just instilling a functionality for your kids to be a part of society.

I know you said: "Then they talk and you want them to shut up and listen to orders." That sounds harsh in the way you phrase it, but it would be an unruly society if everyone was talking at once (to put it simplistically).

What I mean, is that you are teaching your kids boundaries that society needs in order to have civility. This is in stark contrast to the authoritarian rule of the Whips in if..., in my opinon, at least.

PIPER said...

Marilyn,

I agree. But as a society, I still believe that we squash creativity. We are all guilty of doing so. There comes a time during the early teen years where it's frowned upon to play in the realm of individuality. You either fully embrace it and get labeled for doing so, or you stay with the herd.

Rick Olson said...

The Whips will grow up to chase the next teen that steals their motorcycle and then go home and bitch to their wives about it and then go to the club to reminisce about the good old days.

They will also grow up to wield the power in society, accumulate most of the wealth, and pass that power down to their children.

Personally, I liked this film, for McDowell's performance and those wild shifts in tone. It was interesting that the B&W scenes sent me scurrying to find rhyme or reason, when really they're in there just because they look cool.

Is Mick's break from reality when he's slapped by the girl, or when they steal the motorcycle? Do they actually steal the motorcycle? I don't think so ...

And what's with Knightly's fascination with women's clothing? Just a throwaway that's not developed.

Unlike what someone else said, I don't think the homosexual overtones were handled subtly at all ... the Whips discuss it openly. For 1968, it would have been quite in your face.

PIPER said...

Fox and Marilyn,

There you go. Making me feel good about what I'm doing, when I'm trying to knock myself down. What's a self-depreciating Midwesterner to do?

Fox said...

The little things seemed so 60s ... the lascivious looks of the chaplain when he heard the confession of the boy, when he put his hands down Jute's shirt....

Rick-

I was confused by that last moment while watching the film. I too, at first, thought that the teacher was going in to molest Jute, but then he appeared to be chocking him. I don't really get what happened in that moment, but I know I ended up thinking it wasn't sexual. But, again, I really don't get what was happening.

Greg said...

Then you want them to walk, but not far...

I just want them to get the hell out of my house and stop free-loading.

School systems do not reward those who don't quite fit in, it's true. That's why sometimes you have to go your own way. Our oldest (bomb drop now) dropped out of school and is now an electrician. He had some major rebellion problems, police problems, drug problems, etc. Turns out he just couldn't stand the way it was all set up. Once he was on his own and found he could learn a skill, apply it and get paid for it he did and is now happier than ever. On the other hand, the other kids seem to work well with the system but people tend to look at them as the good kids and the oldest, despite now being successful, as the dropout. I think rebellion in any form is as much about labels and being able to apply them for comfort sake as anything else.

PIPER said...

Rick,

I think I mentioned that it was handled subtlety. I know that it's talked about openly, but I appreciated that it wasn't used to shock in any way. It could have been more in your face with how Anderson handled it, but it wasn't.

Fox said...

Piper-

For what it's worth, you sound like an excellent parent, doing what you think is right and then caring and showing concern with what impact your decisions may have had.

I know from talking to my mom, and my sisters (about my nieces and nephews), and the women I work with, that parenting decisions stick with them forever - "Did I forget to teach them this?", "Did I mess up here?", "Did I do too much there?", "Is their behavior a product of my missteachings?". I take this self-questioning as a sign of good parenting, because it shows you care.

PIPER said...

Greg,

My older brother was the same way. Ran into the same problems as your oldest and still has yet to complete school even though he's approaching 50. But he's a wonderful man and wonderful father and yes, I think he had a problem with the structure as well.

In truth, I admire him for bucking the system. I myself feel guilty that I followed it so well. He found his way on his terms, no one elses.

bill r. said...

I'm so far behind now. Work sucks.

Fox said...

I'm so far behind now. Work sucks....

See how the system has oppressed our Bill??!!!!

Revolution on the rooftop in 20!

Rick Olson said...

To me, it's clear that the break from reality was when they were wandering around town. I don't think the girl exists objectively, but others have already said that.

When I think of the unrealistic or "play-acting" way the boys played rebel, I think of Godard's Pierrot le fou, actually (I think Ed first brought Godard up) the "outlaw" scenes had that child-like, play-acting quality.

Pat said...

This just feels like Anderson getting his public school experience out of his system.

Marilyn, this statement pretty much sums up why I struggled with getting interested in this film my first time through. Or, to borrow a critic's quote from its "which side will you be on?" ad campaign "Anderson is still lashing out at Nanny."

Someone mentioned "...if" feeling out of time for them, and I felt that way too. I can see why it was controversial in its day, but it feels tame now. It did pique my intereset in seeing "Oh Lucky Man" and "Britannia Hospital" though.

Greg said...

Bill, you're actually not behind. The entire comment thread has been about when Bill is coming back and what do you think Bill thinks of all this. Whew, now that you're back we can get some answers.

Marilyn said...

You either fully embrace it and get labeled for doing so, or you stay with the herd.

Not necessarily. I think there is an element of going "underground" that creative people have. I'm not sure how creative I am, but I do know that I made friends in all the various groups in school, from the greasers to the jocks, so I could avoid a definitive label and experience the freedom to experiment with different personae. My closest group were the theatre kids, but I never gave up any of my other groups.

Pat said...

Oh, and here's another thing I noticed that I thought was interesting. During the time when Mick is getting beaten by that Whip and they are cutaways to other boys in the school listening, that one science-obsessed boy is looking through his microscope and we momentarily see what he sees - it looks like a bunch of cells bonding and coming together to make something. (Forgive me, I'm a bit of a science moron, so that's the best way I can describe it.) But it felt like something coming together,like random cells coming together to form something new and bigger - and it seemed to parallel what might be going on in Mick's head: the idea of a rebellion taking shape, the beginnings of the plan to "change the course of the world with a bullet in the right place."

Greg said...

Pat, it's an interesting thing how much you realize when you become a parent how little you control. My wife and I have often joked that people without kids are the best parents in the world. They always know what to do, how to discipline, how to say just the right thing to motivate good or discourage bad, etc. Then you have kids and you realize it's a crapshoot. The reason that's interesting is because so many see it in their own family growing up but don't equate it to parenting their own kids. You and your brother had the same parents but drastically different outcomes. Same for me, my brother and my sister. And yet somehow we think when it's our turn we will mold them into our likeness and all will be well. We can't and that's the difficulty that society and the boarding school here run up against with the terminal miscreants or outcasts. They try to change them through external forces rather than understand them for who they are.

Rick Olson said...

Mick's favorite song -- the African Dominus illustrates Anderson's ambivalence, and underlines some of what you all have been saying, I think Marilyn (and Greg's?) comments about the critique being from the upper class ... Mick likes it because he thinks it's radical, from the oppressed African people, but it can be read (or heard) as an expression of that oppression -- the very Roman Catholic, Latin composition being imposed upon the tribal cultures ... the Church as the "carrier" and enforcer of domination, and all that '60s stuff.

Fox said...

When I think of the unrealistic or "play-acting" way the boys played rebel, I think of Godard's Pierrot le fou, actually (I think Ed first brought Godard up) the "outlaw" scenes had that child-like, play-acting quality....

Rick, going back to the girl, the lion/lioness sex romp between her and Mick definitely felt like something Godard (and maybe Antonioni too) would have done.

Not to mention that the three-way bike scene through the park reminded me of Jules & Jim, though not as romantic, and just briefly.

Rick Olson said...

it looks like a bunch of cells bonding and coming together to make something. (Forgive me, I'm a bit of a science moron, so that's the best way I can describe it.)

Pat, to me they looked like they were multiplying and beginning to dominate the field of vision ... were they the rebellion or the system?

bill r. said...

One of the reasons I don't have kids is because I have no idea what to do. I think I'd be a lousy parent. I'm a good uncle, but that's different.

World's Greatest Dad illustrated another reason I don't have kids.

Fox said...

Oh, and here's another thing I noticed that I thought was interesting. During the time when Mick is getting beaten by that Whip and they are cutaways to other boys in the school listening, that one science-obsessed boy is looking through his microscope and we momentarily see what he sees - it looks like a bunch of cells bonding and coming together to make something. (Forgive me, I'm a bit of a science moron, so that's the best way I can describe it.) But it felt like something coming together,like random cells coming together to form something new and bigger - and it seemed to parallel what might be going on in Mick's head: the idea of a rebellion taking shape, the beginnings of the plan to "change the course of the world with a bullet in the right place."...

Pat-

I think that's a good interpretation. At first, I read the science kids looking in the microscope as indifference to the violence above, but then the image of the slide dominates the screen for quite an extended time. I didn't know what to make of it, but I like your thoughts on it.

Rick Olson said...

Not to mention that the three-way bike scene through the park reminded me of Jules & Jim, though not as romantic, and just briefly.

Yeah, that and "Butch Cassidy" ... raindrops keep fallin' on my head.

Pat said...

Rick, it's interesing that you mention the song, because I noticed that, but had a slightly different take on it. I felt like Mick's embracing that song represented some sort of yearning for a spiritual connection that was different from what was represented by that Curch of England hymn which is also heard througout the film. I didn'tmake the connection that the song represented the imposition of the Catholic church on Africa, since we frequently sing Africa hymns such as that in my UCC church choir.

Rick Olson said...

But, Pat, a dominant word is "Dominus", about the domination of God/church. And it's not an African song, it's a high-church, Latin song that has been Africanized.

Rick Olson said...

When I was in Africa, I heard a lot of Western hymns sang by tribal churches to an African beat. I thought they were beautiful and wild.

But when you think about the implications of that, what they represent, it's not such a pretty thing.

Rick Olson said...

In fact, the more I think of it, the more I view that song as the sum of the themes and Anderson's ambivalent attitude. The "rebel" listens obsessively to a piece of music that is emblematic of what he is rebelling against.

Pat said...

Rick - I realize 'dominus' is probably the root word in 'domination' (I took Latin for five years), but domination isn't the first thing I think of when I hear the word "dominus" - it means God. My point is that I don't immediately think of oppression and domination every time I hear a Latin hymn, whether it's in an Afticanized arrangement or a traitional one. To me, this song was one of praise and worship. And so, I didn't read anyhting sinister into Mick's attachment to the song - I thought it reflected an innocent, possiblity immature, yearnbing for a different kind of spiritual expression. I freely admit that my reading of those scenes is based in my own take on the song.

Marilyn said...

I think he (Anderson) locates his music in contrast to the ever-present "Jerusalem" in British public school movies, an imperialist song if ever there was one. Second stanza:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariots of fire!
I will not cease from metal fight;
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

kassy said...

Mick likes the song because he thinks its radical as Rick says, but if the song also can be seen to represent the Church forcing Africa to conform, is the song actually saying that Mick thinks he's a radical but in the end he will end up conforming?

Pat - that was a great call on the cells bonding!

Rick Olson said...

I don't immediately think of oppression and domination every time I hear a Latin hymn, whether it's in an Afticanized arrangement or a traitional one.

Neither do I ... I've sang plenty of them, too. Nor do I see anything "sinister" in it, just another piece of the puzzle of what Anderson is getting at, that's all. (Indeed, it does mean God, and indeed the root is the word for dominance. Again, the Anglican Church's use of God to dominate it's charges in the school, that ridiculous sermon about Christ being the commander).

A well known thing about foreign missions is that they are arms of the dominant culture ...

Ed Howard said...

About the song. Wasn't it "Sanctus," not "Dominus?" If I'm not mistaken, I thought it was the same traditional Latin hymn that was treated to an unconventional arrangement by Ernst Reijseger, working with a Sardinian choir and an African vocalist, for Werner Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder. (And now I wonder if that soundtrack, one of the best I've ever heard, is indebted to Anderson's use of the African "Sanctus" here.)

The use of it in If.... is interesting, in that for Mick it represents a genuine emotional experience, and yet Rick is right that what the song is actually representative of is the colonial conquest of Africa, melding African rhythms with Western religion, and thus diluting African culture. At the same time, it's such purely beautiful music -- much more beautiful than most actual Western religious music, which I usually find rather numbing -- that it's hard to think of it as at all oppressive. It reminds me of the spiritual, Christian choir music I've heard from the Caribbean. There's such joy and energy in this music. I'm not a religious man at all, but that music, like the Africanized version of "Sanctus" here and Reijseger's Herzog soundtrack, brings me closer to spirituality than anything else I've experienced.

Rick Olson said...

is the song actually saying that Mick thinks he's a radical but in the end he will end up conforming?

Yup. Or it is irony that he is one of the oppressors who dreams of rebelling against the oppression ...

Pat said...

Marilyn,

I'm familiar with "Jersualem," but I thought there was a more direct contrast between the song McDowell listens to and the traditional hymn that is actually played over and over in the film (and I should know the name of that traditional hymn since we've sung it over and over in my church, but it escapes me right now.)

Rick Olson said...

Ed, you're right: it is Sanctus. Sorry 'bout that.

Pat said...

Rick -

Fair point, just not something that occurred to me as I watching/listening. As I said, it reflect my own reaction to the music more than anything else.

Marilyn said...

Pat, I don't literally mean the hymns used in "if..." "Jerusalem" is practically the stock song for movies of this type, and I think Anderson may have been deliberately trying to subvert that tradition, moving locus of the insular public school system to a wider world.

You could just as easily say that the African rhythms were diluting the British religion as the other way around. Given the times, England could no longer remain a cultural island.

Rick Olson said...

Ed, I love South African vocal music, of the kind showcased by Paul Simon in "Graceland" Ladysmith Black Mombazo is the group he worked with, and is the most well-known of that bunch.

Interestingly, their music is very religious.

Rick Olson said...

You could just as easily say that the African rhythms were diluting the British religion as the other way around. Given the times, England could no longer remain a cultural island.

Marilyn, that is very true. I just don't think Anderson is that subtle.

PIPER said...

Everyone,

I'm sorry I've been out of this. Work has blown up quite a bit and I must tend to that. Talk amongst yourselves.

JOSEPH CAMPANELLA said...

Great write up Piper. I really enjoyed this film. Although I've never been into the counter culture of the 1960's, I feel this picture handled the subject in a different way.

The fact that this film came out before the great, yet overrated EASY RIDER is even more of a shock.

I haven't read through all the comments yet, because I wanted to throw my hat in the ring ASAP.

As the ending approached and the impending doom began to grow, I must say that I was quite uneasy about it. It did remind me of a Columbine type massacre. Yet, the way it is handled, with its surreal nature and humor (namely the old lady wearing pearls and a hat wielding a machine gun) I believe it has side stepped the obvious scapegoating that it could have suffered. "This film could bring children to violence..."

What the ending symbolizes, with its back and forth gunfire is that tradition and innovation will always be at war with each other and the fighting will never stop.

P.S. Not including the poem, you used the word "if" 19 times.... EXTRA CREDIT!

PIPER said...

Joseph,

Thanks for joining. Like you said, I like that the impending doom wasn't so doom-like. It may be me chickening-out. It may be Anderson chickening-out. But the fact that the climax is handled like it is, certainly reinforces the title of the film. I like that it's treated in a hypothetical manner.

Marilyn,

Going way way back, you're absolutely right. Kids can certainly straddle the different social circles. I certainly did and like you, I ended up in the theater group as well. I even lettered in Drama. That's right, I said it. But I fear that you and I might be exceptions.

Fox said...

Going way way back, you're absolutely right. Kids can certainly straddle the different social circles. I certainly did and like you, I ended up in the theater group as well. I even lettered in Drama. That's right, I said it. But I fear that you and I might be exceptions....

I used to play baseball, make-out with skater chicks, and breakdance on some cardboard next to the gym, and look where I ended up... film blogging. (sigh).

Also, I knew this couldn't be a reference since it was made prior, but I couldn't help but think of Patty Hearst when The Girl is all suited up in her battle gear at the end alongside the other "rooftop revolutionaries".

PIPER said...

Fox, I always wanted to make-out with a skater chick, but never got the chance. Was it rough, like I always imagined it would be?

Ed Howard said...

What, everyone's run out of things to say about this film already? I find that hard to believe. Two things I want to point out:

1) I'm surprised more people, other than Piper himself, haven't commented on that stunning scene where the young pretty boy Phillips watches Wallace's gymnastics routine. It plays out in slo-mo black and white, with such sensuality and grace, with real feeling behind it: a moment of surprising romance, even, in a film that's generally more interested in other things. I wonder what everyone makes of that. Piper mentioned Van Sant in connection with the now-inescapable Colombine associations, but for me that gymnastics scene is the one that makes me think Van Sant is a fan of this film: it's an obvious inspiration for his own poetically homoerotic images.

2) One absurd element in the film's finale, which speaks to its status as metaphor and symbol rather than concrete reality, is the presence of various cartoonishly exaggerated "authority" figures amongst the crowds being gunned down by Mick and his pals. I mean, these rebels are facing off against bishops, generals, bourgeois ladies in furs and even actual knights in armor: it's like an editorial cartoon rather than anything approximating reality, all that's missing is the labels for what the symbols represent. The finale shows the unorganized rebels facing off against Religion and the Military and the Bourgeois; fighting concepts rather than people.

PIPER said...

Ed,

There are certainly more things to discuss. I'm sorry I have been out. I was traveling this afternoon. Just got into my hotel and now I'm off to have dinner. But those are 2 very good points. I will come back to this this evening.

JOSEPH CAMPANELLA said...

Ed-

I think, in regards to your second point, I was trying to say with my first post. But less successfully then you.

The ending is a total metaphor. I would have been disturbed if it were shot realistically, because of course, no matter how stuffy somebody is, I don't wish to see them gunned down and blown up. But the comedy that runs through that gunfight, namely the old lady wielding the machine gun, and the head master exploding after being shot, lets me see it as a new vs. old metaphor. The old school will always be fighting with the new school, and it will continue until the end of time.

Also, the film ends in mid fight, showing us no resolution....

Greg said...

Ed, there should be plenty more to say but Pat horrendously dropped the ball by disappearing as the host for most of the day which is why he will never get another job in this town again. Don't forget Piper - You've been blackballed.

Also, he missed the obvious pun in his headline. It should have been "TOER if.... C". Duh. Nice miss Piper.

Anyway, and seriously now, I want to thank Pat for a great analysis of this film and for hosting despite an apparently busy work day.

Now, to the movie. I found the homoerotic scene in the gym quite well done and tender which was a bit surprising because the other homoerotic scenes had a sinister quality to them. It's kind of hard to make a film at an all boys school without homoeroticism and it seems an easy way, especially in 1968, to use it as a quick signal that the characters are evil. That's changed now but then it was a pretty easy signal to use. Gays were either comic relief or shady, so the inclusion of that scene was quite nice and keeps the movie from feeling dated along social equality lines.

PIPER said...

Greg,

To you and everyone I apologize for being gone most of the day. Some unexpected work kept me away and I was quickly sent out of town on business. And I know that I'm the wind beneath everyone's wings, so I'm not surprised that participation has fallen without me around.

I'm up for more discussion tomorrow.

Joseph,

I need to watch the ending again, because for the life of me I don't know of anyone exploding. I thought the point of the ending was to show no violence because it was so cartoony and strictly a fantasy.

Pat said...

Like Joseph, I had the impression that the headmaster exploded in that final scene. I watched it twice to comfirm what I thought I'd seen. It looked as though all that remained of him was a black spot on the ground.

PIPER said...

Pat and Joseph, I need to see that scene again. To me, that runs counter to what I thought the ending was about. I guess it's still fantasy and especially fantasy if he explodes.

One other thing that I think is worth mentioning is the character of Mrs. Kemp. Again, just a footnote not unlike Jute, but the three scenes she is in are great scenes. The first, where she is sitting among the boys during dinner and the sexual tension is so good. The second is when she's serving lunch and she shouts at the boys. Almost like it's a release of her sexual tension. And then there's the wonderful scene of her walking through the boys bathroom naked, touching all the towels, while the boys are out performing drills.

bill r. said...

I'm sorry that I more or less missed out on this one. I feel like a bad film-clubber...

PIPER said...

Don't sweat it Bill.

If this were a book club hosted at my house, I in effect got up from the conversation, left my house and the state while you guys continued to go about your way. I didn't even say, hey lock up on your way out.

Greg said...

I raided your fridge while you were gone but Bill and Ed were the guys who messed up the bathroom. They kept trying to see what would flush and what wouldn't. I tried to tell them a brick wouldn't but they wouldn't listen.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Just getting in here. Sorry. Should have posted earlier.

Love your take on the film, specifically your pointing out the fact that the three heroes don't actually do anything to merit punishment. "It's you general attitude," they're told. This implies the Upper Classmen are virually reading their minds. And this would be appropriate for fantasy. Fo If. . . from start to finish is a fantasy of Anderson's recollection of his school days.

I felt the ending was indeed troumphant because of that. The fantasy has played its course and it has no where else to go. It simply ends.

The film's appearance was simultaneous with May '68 so it's pure unadulterated zeitgeist.

As a gay man I cannot begin to tell you how important this film was for me back when representations of same-sex desire were scarcer than he's teeth.

I got a chance to tell Lindsay Anerson himself how much I appreciated the film when I met him at

(wait for it)

the cast and crew screening of My Own Private Idaho. Gavin Lambert brought him. He was most appreciative.

Then Keanu Reeves came swanning by and he was off in hot pursuit.

Gus loves Anderson's work-- especially the slo-mo in the gym scene.