Tag Archives: Lindsay Anderson

253. IF…. (1968)

“What child has ever been silly enough to ask, when Cinderella’s pumpkin turns into a golden coach, where reality ends and fantasy begins?”–Lindsay Anderson

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , David Wood, Richard Warwick, Robert Swann, Hugh Thomas, Peter Jeffrey, Christine Noonan

PLOT: Mick Travis is a rebellious teenage boy at a British boarding school. Because of “general attitude,” he and two friends are persecuted and beaten by the “whips,” older students given privileges to enforce discipline. During military exercises, Mick and his friends discover a cache of automatic weapons and make plans to disrupt the school’s Founders’s Day celebration.

Still from If.... (1968)

BACKGROUND:

  • In England if…. was controversial due to its unflattering portrayal of English boarding schools (particularly, one suspects, of the depiction of pervasive homosexuality) and, by extension, of English traditions in general. When David Sherwin and John Howlett brought their original screenplay to one producer, he called it “the most evil and perverted script he’s ever read.”
  • The film was inspired by ‘s 1933 Certified Weird anarchist screed Zéro de conduite, relocated from 1930s France to then-contemporary Britain.
  • if… was filmed mostly on location at Cheltenham College, director Lindsay Anderson’s alma mater. Many of the boys who appear in smaller roles were students there at the time. A doctored script, missing the final scenes, was given to the college, since the school never would have granted permission to shoot if they had known if…’s climax beforehand.
  • This was Malcolm McDowell’s film debut.
  • Look for portraits of famous revolutionaries and icons of rebellion like Che Guevara, Geronimo, Vladimir Lenin, James Dean and others hanging on the boys’s walls.
  • There is a legend that the film shifted from black and white to color because the producers ran out of money for color stock. Lindsay Anderson contradicted these rumors, saying that they decided to shoot the first chapel scene in black and white due to lighting considerations. He liked the effect so much that he inserted black and white scenes at random to disorient the viewer and to hint at the fantasy elements to come later.  Anderson insists there is no symbolic “code” or reasoning for why some scenes are monochrome and some in color.
  • Distributor Paramount was horrified by the film and certain it would bomb in Britain. They wanted to bury it, but at the last minute they needed a movie to screen in London to replace their current flop: Barbarella. if… went on to be a hit.
  • if…. won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, although in the commentary Malcolm McDowell recalls that he was told that the film actually came in third in the voting, but was chosen as a compromise because the jury could not break a deadlock between supporters of Costa-Gavras’s Z and Bo Widerberg’s Adalen 31.
  • Lindsay Anderson and Malcolm McDowell made three films together, in three different decades. In each of them McDowell plays a character named “Mick Travis,” although based on their varying personalities it’s unlikely that they are intended to be the same person. The other two “Mick Travis” films are 1973’s O Lucky Man! and 1982’s Britannia Hospital.
  • Anderson actually wrote a proper sequel for if…, which was to take place at a class reunion, which was unfilmed at the time of his death in 1993.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The final shootout, as a whole; it’s both a troubling massacre and an immensely satisfying revenge. Early posters of if… favored shots of star McDowell or the photogenic Girl; we prefer the brief image of a dowager who grabs a machine gun and pitches in for the defense of the school.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Tiger mating ritual; chaplain in a drawer; granny with a machine gun

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Throughout most of its run time if… is a viciously realistic boarding school drama. But when the Headmaster sternly tells the boys “I take this seriously… very seriously indeed” after Mick shoots a chaplain and bayonets a teacher during the school’s campus war games, we suddenly realize the line between realism and fantasy has been thinner than we thought.


Original U.S. release trailer for if….

COMMENTS: if…‘s theme is the conflict between tradition and rebellion, age and youth, especially resonant concerns in the tumultuous year of 1968, when the firebrand film was fortuitously released a few months after the student riots in Paris. Structurally, ifContinue reading 253. IF…. (1968)

CAPSULE: BRITANNIA HOSPITAL (1982)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Graham Crowden, Leonard Rossiter, Malcolm McDowell, Marsha Hunt

PLOT: The unions are picketing, mobs gather outside the hospital gates protesting the institution’s harboring of an African dictator, an investigative reporter is sneaking around posing as a window cleaner, and Professor Millar is continuing his secret experiments, all on the day Her Royal Highness is scheduled to grace Britannia Hospital with her presence.

Still from Britannia Hospital (1982)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scattershot, though in  a pleasant way, Britannia Hospital is the least (and the least surreal) of Lindsay Anderson and Malcolm McDowell’s “Mick Travis” trilogy. It does end with an unexpected wowza of weirdness, however.

COMMENTS:The very first scene of Britannia Hospital sets Lindsay Anderson’s black and bitter tone. Picketers flag down an ambulance outside the hospital. “No admissions except by union dispensation,” croaks the protestor in a Cockney accent. The strikers check the back and find an old man gasping for air; the paramedic reads a newspaper while they check his paperwork before passing him through. Unfortunately, the old man gets inside the hospital just as the nurses are going on break. “You can’t leave that there,” says one supervisor of the soon-to-be corpse lying on the stretcher, but what are they going to do? They’re off the clock.

There are not many likable characters in Britannia Hospital. The hospital administrators are more concerned with serving a proper English breakfast to the private patients in their luxury suites than in healing the sick. The unions grind the institution to a halt over any perceived slight. The doctors pursue private research into Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. The protestors are looking for any excuse for a riot. Perhaps the closest thing to a sympathetic character here is Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), an investigative reporter planning to expose corruption in the hospital. (“MickTravis” was the name of the central character in the first two McDowell/Anderson collaborations, but he plays only a minor role in the ensemble cast here). Guess whether Travis gets a happy ending.

With the minor exception of a pair of royal protocol experts—a dwarf and a cross dresser—the arrogant and obsessed Professor Millar (Graham Crowden) is the strangest (and most fun) character in Britannia Hospital. His campy dialogue and reverence for “science!” make it seem like he’s stopped by on his way to the set of a Hammer Frankenstein picture to deliver his lines. His dastardly machinations even provoke an outrageous gore sequence, which further makes it seem like his character is on loan from a completely different movie. As for his final (and totally out-of-character) speech—the blank faces of the assembly reflect our own experience. We don’t know what to make of this “new beginning” he prophesies, or how in the world it is supposed to fit into the social satire that had been the movie’s currency up until this point.

I call the movie a satire because it mocks human vice, but Anderson’s outlook in Britannia Hospital is too bleak and hopeless to properly be described as satire. Satire implies a moral or political point of view; satire takes sides. The vision here is misanthropic and hopeless. The privileged upper classes are an easy target (the hospital harbors a cannibal, after all, just because he pays for a private suite). But we wouldn’t root for the lower classes, either. The union bosses are corrupt, hypocritical, and easily bribed. The mobs of protestors are willing to tear the innocent limb from limb along with the wicked. If they storm the hospital and overthrow the authorities, we are certain that the proletariat’s leaders will be no more virtuous than the current administration. The scorched earth tactics of both sides are tearing apart the hospital. It’s a naked power struggle: money on one side, numbers on the other. There are no good guys.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…another surreal Lindsay Anderson piece that takes many wild forays and yet still manages to come together as a whole in the end. This is as good, as clever, and as pointed as any of his better known stuff.”–Richard Winters, Scopophila (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Leo,” who said it “seems a bit odd.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

55. O LUCKY MAN! (1973)

“Lindsay… was never into realism.  He wanted it real, but not realistic.”–Malcolm McDowell

O Lucky Man! is a film about the real world.  I think that everything in it is recognizable to people who look around with open eyes and can see the kind of world we’re living in.  But of course it makes it’s comment through comedy and through satire, because I think the world today is too complex and too mad and too bad for one to be able to make a straight, serious comment.”–Lindsay Anderson

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DIRECTED BY: Lindsay Anderson

FEATURING: Malcolm McDowell, , , Arthur Lowe, Alan Price, Lindsay Anderson

PLOT: Mick Travis is an eager, ambitious trainee at a coffee company who gets a big break when the firm’s top salesman in the Northeast territory goes missing under mysterious circumstances and he’s picked to replace him.   With his engaging smile and can-do attitude, his career begins promisingly, but soon a sting of unfortunate coincidences befall him.  A plague of strange events drive him across the 1970s English landscape, as he is mistaken for a spy, volunteers for medical experiments, falls in with a touring rock band, becomes the personal assistant of a ruthless capitalist, goes to prison, and works at a soup kitchen.

Still from O Lucky Man! (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • McDowell is Mick Travis in this film.  He played a character of the same name in three of director Lindsay Anderson’s films, each completed in a different decade: If… (1968), O Lucky Man! (1973), and Britannia Hospital (1982).  Other than sharing the same name, there is no evidence that Mick Travis is intended to be the same character at different stages of life.
  • McDowell came up with the core idea for the script, drawing on his own pre-fame experiences as a coffee salesman.  McDowell worked on the script with screenwriter David Sherwin (If…).  In an interview, McDowell recalls that he was having trouble thinking of an ending and Anderson asked him how his real life adventures as a coffee salesman ended.  “That’s your ending,” Anderson told him.
  • This was McDowell’s next project after completing A Clockwork Orange in 1971, cementing his position as the most important weird actor of the early 1970s.
  • Director Anderson had tried to make documentary about singer-songwriter Alan Price before he began O Lucky Man!, but could not obtain funding to license the songs.  Anderson instead invited Price to write the songs for this movie and to appear as the leader of the touring band in the film.
  • Almost all of the actors in the film play multiple parts.  Arthur Lowe won a BAFTA Best Supporting Actor Award for his triple-role as Mr. Duff, Charlie Johnson and Dr. Munda (in blackface).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The final party scene, with the entire cast dancing to the theme song while balloons drop from the ceiling, although the shot of Dr. Millar’s medical experiments is unforgettable as well.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As if Mick Travis’ improbable class-trotting adventures across 1970s Britain weren’t strange enough, Lindsay Anderson sprinkles weirdness and non sequiturs throughout, including Kafkaesque interrogations, a half-man half-hog, and an unexpected breastfeeding scene. Any film in which a boarding-room neighbor inexplicably gives a young man a “golden” suit and sends him out into the world with the sage advice “try not to die like a dog,” is tipping to the weird end of the scale.

Short clip from O Lucky Man!

COMMENTS: The standard line on O Lucky Man! is that it is a satire on the capitalist Continue reading 55. O LUCKY MAN! (1973)