Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Public School Film Club

The Millbrooker Towers DVD rental account has run dry of films this month (we only get three a month from Cinema Paradiso, and we've had 'em all this month), so Sunday's presentation came from our own small collection.

After a suitably sustained rummage through the cupboards, Mrs The Millbrooker and I plumped for Lindsay Anderson's 1969 British classic "If...".
It's such a well known piece, I guess that more or less anything I have to say on the subject will have either already been said, or that you'll at least already have your own opinion; what the hell - I'll witter on for a bit anyway.

Despite the excellent direction by Anderson, this film belongs well and truly to Malcolm McDowell starring as the recalcitrant, free thinking sixth former Travis at "College" public school. McDowell (b1943) was around twenty five when this was filmed, but carries off the trick of appearing seventeen convincingly.
Most of the narrative takes place in and around the daily rituals and routines of the all-boys public school, featuring ineffectual teachers, a liberal headmaster and utterly despicable senior boys who have "privileges" and the right to beat younger pupils. It's a harsh, unfair and brutal environment of which some of us will have had some small experience. I like to think that such places don't exist in quite the same form today, but I certainly don't know that.
The pettiness and sheer mindless injustices pile upon Travis and he cannot reconcile himself to just putting up with it, eventually leading a bloody revolt in possibly one of the most famed scenes of the British cinema as they occupy the roof on Founder's Day and machine gun the quadrangles below:
The film is more than just a tale of public school brutality, though. It's an allegory for its time. The late sixties was a time of youth uprisings against the old established order; student sit-ins, running battles in Paris between the young and the police. Young people then (and, I think, now) could see no future; the ruling classes were doing things to benefit themselves at a price to the free thinkers and ordinary workers that was too high to contemplate (remind you of anything?). Death by nuclear annihilation was (amongst my generation) everyone's probable fate.
Travis and his small band of friends endure a beating, contempt from above, carelessness from all around and finally rise up to try and win through violence what they haven't been able to win through reason and intelligence.
If... is a powerful film but it has plenty of humour to go with the grit; the film clubbers enjoyed some of its more ridiculous episodes and the joy of Travis raising a laconic eyebrow when an authority figure proved himself to be ignorant or simply silly.

The film club scale: Dong took a single fag break in the 107 minutes running time; Shazzerooneypoos made no wuffling noises at all but did chat about something or other; Frankenkeith knew the film already (as did Dong, as did I) and had plenty of salient comment in the after show discussion; Slocombe seemed to enjoy it (but I was quite "merry" by the closing credits, so I can't truthfully remember what he actually said). The Wizzers of Soz is with us for Easter and she certainly enjoyed the film.
So that's a thumbs up. Rebels with or without causes with love it. But you already knew that.
A scene stolen from YouTube:

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