If . . .
David Thomson is the author of The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies—and What They Have Done to Us; Have You Seen . . . ? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films; and The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick, Robert Swann,
“Which side will you be on?” asked the ads for Lindsay Anderson’s surrealist dissection of conformity and oppression, metaphorically set in that most brutal of institutions: boarding school. “Don’t speak to us; you’re scum,” scowl the stuffy, well-sodomized senior leaders of College House, cruelly keeping order like true sons of the Establishment. The lackadaisical fantasist Travis (Malcolm McDowell) couldn’t care less about school or leadership; he’s got other things on his mind, like revolution and girls. The seniors’ taunts (“You’re a degenerate, Travis”) barely register, until he’s reprimanded through more traditional, brutal means, an act that may trigger “revolution” after all. A tribute to Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct, If . . . may be set in school, but its metaphors of social control (and how to fight it) reach far beyond, to the barricades of 1968. Special mention goes to If . . .’s Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, whose political satires with Milos Forman (especially Firemen’s Ball) echo throughout this furious work.