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IF . . .

UK, 1968 (MIFF 1969, Programme 1)

Director: Lindsay Anderson

"Fighting means commitment, means believing what you say, and saying what you believe. It will also mean being called sentimental, irresponsible, self-righteous, extremist and out-of-date by those who equate maturity with scepticism, art with amusement, and responsibility with romantic excess. And it must mean a new kind of intellectual and artist, who is not frightened or scornful of his fellows; who does not see himself as threatened by, and in natural opposition to, the philistine mass; who is eager to make his contribution. and ready to use the mass media to do so. By his nature, the artist will always be in conflict with the false, the narrow-minded and the reactionary: there will always be people who do not understand the relevance of what he is doing: he will always have to fight for his values."

Thus Lindsay Anderson, writing in 1957. And for fifteen years or thereabouts, Anderson has been known as a film director of promise. He was a force in the Free Cinema movement (edited Together, about the two deaf mutes), made several documentaries (notably Thursday's Children, with Guy Brenton), and then came a feature, This Sporting Life and the short, The White Bus.

To anyone who understands his values and has followed his career, the fact that he has now produced a film which has been hailed as the finest British film ever made, comes as no great surprise. He has been pointing at the writing on the wall for years, and almost nobody cared to look. Now he reads it aloud for anyone with the courage to really listen and look and understand. When students riot in disgust al the petty shams and deceits and hypocrisies with which their intelligence, their perceptions, are insulted, and Authority cracks down and lays bare the violence whose name is Order, the people who cannot bear the truth merely turn their backs and tremble.

All over the world today, such people are dithering with fear; bewildered and crying out for force to suppress what they have always repressed; imagining themselves innocent, when that is the one thing they are not. All over the world, wherever the one universal civil war is breaking out . . . and since we can only comprehend the cosmos by means of the microcosm, in one British public school where a new term begins, and everything settles down in the accustomed orderly way to the routine of chapel, lessons, games. But in this particular school, the prefects are called Whips, the fags are known as Scum. It is a distinction without a difference, unless the difference is merely that of metaphor and the distinction that fine one which knows that actuality and fantasy are both equally real because, for practical purposes nowadays, they are indistinguishable.

One critic has extracted the essence of this film by saying that it is about the apparently ineradicable toleration of what, in our rare moments of sanity, we recognize to be impossibly insane. In other words, the school is any institution, its inmates any society, and the writing on the blackboard reads TRUTH.

Grand Prix, Cannes Festival, 1969.

See also...

The White Bus

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The Red Arrows

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