When I first watched If.... (UK, 1968, dir. Lindsay Anderson), in my twenties, it made no sense to me at all, lacking as I did, like most Americans, any historical context-- (Rhodesia? huh?)--much less any anthropological grasp of the British class system as cultivated in public schools (i.e. private, the name alone is enough to throw off most Americans--worse than cricket, these institutions are to understand).
I only decided to watch it again recently because I'd seen its star Malcolm McDowell speak at the Las Vegas '08 Star Trek con. He pulsed with intensity that made me want to watch him on screen.
And this time I got it. Oh! I thought, right, how interesting:
It's a lesson in the making of terrorists, or revolutionaries if you prefer. In a British boarding school.
The school mixes repression and rewards to instill the values of empire (the usual god & country, buggery & boiled beef, starched matron & sadism, etc.), though the empire is all but gone;
but some boys, led by McDowell's smoldering Mick Travis, plaster their walls with collages of worldwide revolutionaries--the familiar Che, Mao--and an African guerrilla Mick deems "fantastic... fantastic."
At the end, having suffered cruel humiliation, Mick and his friends end up heavily armed on the roof of the school, blasting away at the bishop, headmaster, visiting parents, and good people of the town.
I suppose you could see it as an advertisement for violent revolution, but I don't. Mick is not going to create anything alternative, any more than the school shooters of recent years in the USA have. He is simply registering his rage, going out in a blaze of glory, taking as many of his tormentors with him as he can.
I read the movie the way C.S. Lewis reads the violent psalms, the ones in which the psalmist prays to God to smash the skulls of his enemies' babies against rocks:
This is how people react to being humiliated, unjustly punished (like the savage beating the prefects dish out, left, to Mick), and made to feel powerless--if they get a chance.
So watch out, if you are the person, or the regime, that employ those tools of control.
I was telling someone about this movie the other day, and she said she had recently seen a men's swank fashion catalog that referenced If.....
I was shocked. It seemed so weird to me, like drawing on Battle of Algiers for a clothing line.
But then I thought, well, Lindsay Anderson certainly had an eye for male beauty--(he was no-hope in love with McDowell)--and there's a lyrical scene in which the pretty young blond boy watches an older boy perform a gymnastic routine. All that supressed desire...
So maybe he'd approve?
It's true that the clothes are scrumptious--if you don't think about what they must have actually smelled like.
The boys wear uniforms reminiscent of the Edwardian era (I did find out that much), and as far as they're able, they certainly preen themselves. The swagger-stick carrying prefects, called whips in the film, are peacock-like in their colorful silk waistcoats.
In the film's commentary, McDowell even comments on some of the clothes he wore--wishing he'd been able to keep the coat he first appears in (right), for instance. It was someone's father's WWII de-mob coat, he said. He also admires the worn-leather bomber jacket he wears on the roof at the end.
I didn't find anything online (yet) about If's costumes, but I did come across The 2nd Fashion in Film Festival: “If Looks Could Kill: Cinema’s Images of Fashion, Crime and Violence".
And looky there, from that festival: Ivor Novello (left) in The Lodger (UK, 1927, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) dresses just like Mick. Or the other way round.
Funny, I had just added that film to my Netflix queue, as a follow up to Peeping Tom.
The film festival was in London this past May.
The films are being shown at Bristol's Arnolfini Arts Centre the last weekend in November, not that that does me any good.
I am going to get some of the movies on DVD anyway.
I'd never heard of the Italian sci-fi, pop-mod film The Tenth Victim (1965), starring Marcello Mastrioanni and Ursula Andress (right). It's about a future world in which murder hunts are legalized games.
I have a weakness for costumes made of tin foil, and I must see more of this bikini.