Film Diary: if… (Lindsay Anderson, 1968)
Sunday, 12 October 2008
Despite what we might want to believe, social revolutions are seldom if ever triggered by a single event, instigated by a single individual, or completed within the space of a single year. Western society had been turning itself inside out since at least 1945, possibly since 1918. But looking back, one might recognise 1968 as the year when western society had to acknowledge that it could never be the same again. Event after event underlined the crisis – the Paris uprisings, Grosvenor Square, the Prague Spring and its brutal suppression, the Chicago Democratic Convention, all with Vietnam providing the soundtrack. And before any of these events happened, Lindsay Anderson was filming if…
It looks like a school story, right up to the shocking climax, but it is transparently allegorical. A boys public school as a microcosm of British culture, of the old order that must now fall. And in two parallel stories we follow two of the boys who are formed by their environment. First there is Jute, a naive new boy, gradually being assimilated and accepted into the culture. And then there’s Mick Travis, a sixth-former whose non-comforming instincts begin with growing a moustache over the summer (but keeping it well hidden from authority until he can shave it off), and are pushed by oppression and persection into taking a bloody revenge on the school and the establishment figures who run it.
Something was certainly in the air in that turbulent year. It was something inextricably linked with youth: a generation no longer prepared to sit and watch the follies of its elders being continued into perpetuity and which actively rose against it. It was futile, of course, if total revolution was its aim, but nothing would ever be the same again.
This is a quite magnificent film, one that captures the 1968 mood perfectly, and it should be ranked up there with the very best. The biggest disgrace is that only very recently has it been available on DVD.