if…. — Lindsay Anderson

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Criterion has finally given Lindsay Anderson‘s 1968 classic if…. a proper DVD release. if…. is one of my all time favorite films. Mick Travis (played with savage aplomb by a very young Malcolm McDowell) leads “The Crusaders,” a band of rebels who defy “The Whips,” the cruel upperclassmen who mete out harsh punishments at their stringent English boarding school. “What I want to know is when do we live?” asks restless Mick. However, the life of individual freedom that he wants to live is so suppressed by the cruel and dominating hierarchy of his school (a microcosm of British society) that he must take liberty by force. In one scene, the Crusaders playfully fence with each other, declaring “Death to all tyrants!” The playfulness quickly slips into violence, as the repressed urges of these would-be revolutionaries flare up. When Mick is cut, he shows his wounded hand and declares with pride “Blood! Real blood!”

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Anderson loads if…. with myriad revolutionary images that foreshadow the film’s shocking ending, at the same time tempering if…. with a surrealist sense of humor that satirizes the inherent dangers in institutionalized education and groupthink in general. if…. is bitingly funny, oddly sexy, and unlike any other film I’ve ever seen. The new edition looks great (much better than my VHS dub) and sounds great, and the commentary track provided by Malcolm McDowell and film critic David Robinson is insightful and surely a must for fans of the film. But who am I kidding, if you’re a fan of this film you’ve already seen the release and listened to the commentary–right?

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