Sunday, 13 November 2011
If... is one of those films I watch through my hands at times. Although it is exaggerated and is set 10 years before I entered such an institution, aspects of it are very recognisable. "Fagging", the Cadets Corps, the endless lusting after females, the emphasis on sport and the age and decrepitude of the buildings and staff.
My public school had a technocrat headmaster. He did not understand the boys. But the other teachers were very recognisable, the dim failed housemaster, the young teacher, the eccentrics, the mad chaplain. We had one English teacher who left suddenly due to "illness" halfway through term. "Illness" being a euphemism for taking one of the borders up to town for a night out.
The scene where Travis and Johnny take off for the afternoon, steal a motorbike and head off to a truck stop to be served coffee by the pneumatic Christine Noonan really summed up that sudden desire for freedom that probably existed in many boys. The music that accompanies this scene is one that resonates with me to this day.
The other scene that I did not get first time round aged 13 was the very charged one set in the gym when Johnny preens himself in front of the precocious Bobby Phillips, one of the fags, who then ever so slowly pulled on his jumper, tidies his hair and reluctantly leaves the manly Johnny to continue doing gymnastics.
Now I do understand that scene all too well.
As for the ending? Well that is/was probably every school boy's fantasy.
If... is available on DVD. Go for the Criterion version as it has lots of extras. I also recommend Oh Lucky Man for the further increasingly surreal adventures of Travis ("Chocolate Sandwich" and the instant obituaries to name two scenes that amused me).