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Director: Lindsay Anderson
Writer: David Sherwin and John Howlett
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, and Richard Warwick
Length: 112 min
Label: Eureka: Masters of Cinema
Release Date: June 9, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.67:1
Audio: English: LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Three Short Films by Lindsay Anderson: Three Installations (1952), Thursday’s Children (co-directed with Guy Brenton, 1954), and Henry (1955)
- Audio Commentary Track with Malcolm McDowell and film historian/critic David Robinson
- Newly commissioned interview with producer Michael Medwin, writers David Sherwin and John Howlett, editor David Gladwell, production manager Gavrik Losey, camera operator Brian Harris, and actors David Wood, Hugh Thomas, Geoffrey Chater, Philip Bagenal, and Sean Bury
- Two theatrical trailers
- 56 page full color booklet featuring a new writing by David Cairns; a new interview with actor Brian Pettifer; a self-conducted interview with Lindsay Anderson; notes on the three short films; and rare and archival imagery
Malcolm McDowell will forever been remembered through his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange. McDowell’s role of Alex has become one of the most iconic performances in cinematic history, creating the archetype for troubled youth mad with a sense of unjustifiable rage. However, Kubrick’s casting of McDowell was far from a chance accident, in fact, it was a deliberate result of a role—his debut performance—that McDowell had enacted three years prior, as Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film, If…. The role, which Anderson would later recast McDowell to adapt two more times for subsequent films in his “everyman” Mick Travis Trilogy, is a somewhat less maniacal version of what would later be seen in Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel. While Mick is certainly less obsessed with “ultraviolence,” his depiction of youth in revolt is every bit as engrossing and telling as is Alex. If…. is a film that is marked by a sense of injustice at multiple levels, a deeply political allegory of the British class system released in the wake of worldwide rebellion and counterculturalism.
If…. is set predominately within the oppressive confines of a British boarding school. The film follows three rebellious sixth form (sixth form being the final two years of secondary education) students who, upset with a sense of social injustice and hierarchy present within the school, plot their revolt. The students are under constant watch and control by Whips, sixth form students who are elected by the officials to keep the order amongst students. With the school officials maintaining the top tier of the hierarchy, immediately followed by the Whips, the remaining tiers are filled successively by age. In the bottom tier exist the school’s youngest students, who are referred to as Scum, made to act as personal servants for the Whips. The hierarchy existing in the film is a clear analogy to the class system.Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film, and one that has been consistently written about, is the film’s use of black and white. In specific segments the film will present scenes shot in black and white for no apparent logical reason. While there is a practical aspect to some of these segments—in particular the scenes in the chapel, which could be shot faster and cheaper in black and white than they could in color—the constant disruption of the inserted segments force the viewer to recognize them. This reflexive element acts to bring the artifice of film to the forefront of the picture. This is clearest during one of the film’s most provocative segments, which takes place in a café about halfway through the film. At the café Mick meets a character known only as “the girl,” and the viewer is thrust into Mick’s sexual fantasy. The segment, shot completely in black and white, depicts a violent wrestling match between the girl and Mick. The screams of the two are replaced with the roars of wildlife, and the match ends with the two entangled in each other’s naked embraces. Here, the black and white nature assists in the dreamlike nature of the fantasy. Even if Anderson’s choice was completely practical, this segment, among others, takes on a life of its own, giving an entire new justification for the film’s use.
Because of the fantastical and surrealist elements present, there is much to be said and debated about the film. As the film ages it only becomes endowed with more cultural relevance. While the film is clearly an allegory to late 60s culture, it exists now, in the wake of a series of ongoing school shootings, more relevant. It seems nearly impossible to read the film without thinking about the events of Columbine and Sandy Hook. The film depicts the school officials as ineffective and aloof, and the Whips, who contain the real power, as violent and oppressive. The power dynamic that exists in If…. is not far from what we see cropping in up in many contemporary films (Elephant, Zero Day, and The Dirties) that aim to answer the question of why these school shootings take place. While a reading of If…. as a film about school violence is apt, reading too much into it separates the film from its place in late 60s culture.
While the budgetary concerns of the film have certainty affected the audio, which can be read further below, If…. doesn’t seem to suffer from the same visual problems, and this Blu-Ray proves it. Despite the films more dull color palate, the Blu-Ray still manages to pop, a major improvement from some of the earlier DVD transfers on the market. No strong elements of sharpening or apparent restoration are present, leaving a clean and rich print, faithful to Anderson and cinematographer, Miroslav Ondricek’s, vision.
It is hard to know whether the audio track is of inferior quality, or if Eureka is at the mercy of a low budget capturing of audio. Much of the track is a bit tinny and fails to really capture the full dynamic range. Knowing Eureka’s track record it would seem that the inferiority is a result of the original master, and not the result of a poor transfer. The LCPM 1.0 mix is presented in the best manner possible, but is far from verbose. Much of the lower registers are absent. There are some noticeable areas where the audio begins to peak, but again, this probably exists in the original mix and is of no fault of Eureka’s. Overall, the dialogue cuts through the mix—important, as many of the thick accents can be a bit hard to understand—and the soundtrack and sound effects—crucial to the films construction—are crisp at properly balanced.
Eurka’s Masters of Cinema line has become synonymous with a wealth of additional special features, and If…. is no exception. Fans of Anderson will be pleased to find three of his early short films: Three Installations (1952), Thursday’s Children (co-directed with Guy Brenton, 1954), and Henry (1955). Additionally, there is an informative audio commentary track, which also is featured on the Criterion Collection’s release, with McDowell and film historian/critic David Robinson that helps to answer and place a few of the films harder to understand segments. In terms of interviews, this collection is outstanding providing hours of newly commissioned interviews with producer Michael Medwin, writers David Sherwin and John Howlett, editor David Gladwell, production manager Gavrik Losey, camera operator Brian Harris, and actors David Wood, Hugh Thomas, Geoffrey Chater, Philip Bagenal, and Sean Bury. Finally, there are two theatrical trailers and a 56 page booklet featuring the writing of David Cairns, interviews with actor Brian Pettifer and Lindsay Anderson, and notes on the included short films, illustrated with “rare archival imagery.”
With the Masters of Cinema imprint it is hard to go wrong, and matched with the brilliance of Anderson’s direction, an enthusiastic and strong debut performance by McDowell, and challenging but invoking script it is hard to find a reason not to want to own Eureka’s presentation of If…. With hours of extra features, including a great commentary track, three short films by Anderson, and interviews, this definitive collection is great alternative to Criterion’s release, proving Eureka’s importance among the top independent distribution companies around.