BFI Classics: If

Author: Mark Sinker

If by Lindsay Anderson is one of the greatest British films without a doubt and remains fascinatingly complex to this day. Mark Sinker is a contributing editor to Sight and Sound and the Village Voice so you know you’re in for something with a depth to it when coming to this book.

Politically radical and wonderfully subversive If… was released into cinemas in 1968 when commercial cinema was undergoing a revolution of its own. Starring the then unknown Malcolm McDowell as Mick Travis the film centers on a British private school and its insane hierarchy. The film also has a very clear homo-sexual sub-text that at the time was highly controversial as it involved teenage boys. The film went on to scoop the Palm D’or at Cannes in 1969 and actually led to two fascinating but less successful sequels.

Not surprisingly given his pedigree Sinker comes at the book from a highly academic angle looking to break it down sequence by sequence. He pours over the film with a fine tooth come spending the vast majority of the content simply analyzing the film. The actual history and trivia provided are kept to an absolute minimum and there is no summation as such at the end.

The book makes it crystal clear that Sinker considers this film a critical piece of cinematic brilliance and rates Anderson as a genius amongst directors. He details the politics and the poetry on display in the film with remarkable skill, but it may just be a little heavy handed for non academia fans. Given his writing history he clearly wasn’t in this for a haughty jaunt through this somewhat impenetrable film at the best of times.

No matter what you want to say Snider does capture one aspect of If… to perfection and this is, its uniqueness. Very rarely do you ever get to see a British made film with this level of intelligence combined with a truly revolutionary radical view. Snider decides to literally break down every ten minutes of the film into individual chapters that somewhat match those you would get on a DVD index.

This BFI classic book release is for those super serious about this film and about film analysis in general. If you’re sitting around your house and have heard a little bit about this film and think to yourself, I’ll pick up this book for a laugh, don’t. The content is both theory heavy and takes some time to plough through. No doubt you should watch the film before reading and even listen to the commentary if you can.

Some of the BFI book range can be used for lighter purposes but this release is very much for universities or extreme lovers of this film. Mark Sinker will not get you interested in this film but if you’re already at this point you’ll find much to unearth here. This book will take your fill attention but the value of such a commitment will reply itself full fold. The book does do one thing splendidly and that is explain in depth why this is arguably one of the greatest and most important British films ever made.

Aled Jones

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