One of the many wonderful and strange surprises to be found in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film If…. (available now) is that the pitch-perfect encapsulation of sixties counterculturalism is set at a strict, old-fashioned British boarding school.
A pre–Clockwork Orange Malcolm McDowell, all shaggy hair and insouciant charm, stars as rebel hero Mick Travis, who — along with some like-minded pink-cheeked boys — flouts authority at every opportunity. There’s the expected boys-will-be-boys fare (cutting class, sneaking vodka, odd moments of homoerotic fervor) before the movie takes unexpected turns into shocking violence and mayhem. Anderson alternates black-and-white and color footage, a technique that — in addition to some spectacularly surreal scenes — adds to the film’s (and echoes the era’s) general atmosphere of deep unease.
McDowell’s commentary on the Criterion DVD, and the bonus features that contain interviews with cast and crew (including assistant director Stephen Frears!) and the 1954 Anderson documentary Thursday’s Children (co-directed with Guy Brenton), make this long-anticipated release worth the wait.
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