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Class war: The making of Lindsay Anderson’s revolutionary film ‘If…’
05.21.2014
08:07 am

Topics:
Movies

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Malcolm McDowell
Lindsay Anderson
David Sherwin

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David Sherwin was eighteen years old when he co-wrote a script about two schoolboys (Mick Travis and Johnny Knightly) returning from the freedom of the summer holidays to endure the horror and torture inflicted in them by their public school teachers and elders—floggings, beatings, buggery. The story concluded with Travis being expelled for having a relationship with one of the younger pupils. Called Crusaders Sherwin and his writing partner John Howlett, touted the screenplay around different agencies where it was considered promising, but more suitable as material for a documentary than a feature film. Sherwin disagreed and kept faith with the adventures of Mick & co.

Eventually he met with director Lindsay Anderson, who encouraged Sherwin and Howlett to turn Crusaders into something far more extraordinary. Sometimes however this encouragement was often to dismiss the script as “drivel” and “rubbish,” but Anderson believed the screenplay had great ambition and merit and offered something more intelligent to the kind of movies being made at the time.

A chance meeting with Albert Finney brought on board actor Michael Medwin as producer. Medwin was best known as a character actor with a long list of films and hit TV series to his name. He was then producing Finney’s movie Charlie Bubbles. The partnership of Anderson and Medwin made it easier to win financial backing from Paramount Pictures—who had little idea what sort of film they had commissioned.

The casting was painstaking and according to Sherwin Malcolm McDowell improvised “the best audition in the world” with a scene with actress Christine Noonan set in a cafeteria. McDowell was an unknown and hadn’t learnt his lines. It didn’t matter as McDowell and Noonan were soon rolling around the floor of the rehearsal room behaving like wild animals. This scene was later recreated in the film.

Filming started in January 1968 with a “terrified” Anderson uncertain where he would point the camera. It was just first night nerves as Anderson held everything together delivering the complete film in November of that year, as Sherwin recorded in his diary:

Lindsay has completed his final cut of If… Paramount are so shocked by what they think is madness that they try to sell it to an American art-house chain. The art-house chain think it is madness too. If… will never be shown.

 

 
He shouldn’t have worried as If… opened in London on December 19th 1968. Most critics were harsh, disgusted and horrified by the film and by Anderson’s reputation as a Marxist. This was 1968, the year of the Paris riots, Vietnam, Mao’s cultural revolution and social unrest across Europe. The film was seen as a threat against the values of the establishment, and as promoting violent and bloody revolution.
 
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In an interview in 2012, McDowell explained some of the background to these fears:

“After the Second World War in England, the establishment thought they could just carry on like they did before the war. Young people were fed up. So, slowly, they started to rebel. There was not a revolution in streets like there was in Paris. It started in its own way; it started in 1956 with the play Look Back in Anger – which was a beautifully written and violently anti-establishment play. Its main character was very compassionate, very robust, very intelligent. It sent shockwaves which spread everywhere [and influenced] painting, poetry, music,” McDowell told me in explaining the social context of Lindsay Anderson’s film.

“It showed the schools that have been there for a thousand years – and they were incredible schools. In Britain, aristocrats sent their children there to educate them, to send them out to rule the empire. And so the revolution takes place in one of these schools. That sent shockwaves. In England – oh, God! – it was like heresy. And If… was the end result of this period.”

In a question-and-answer interview written by Anderson in 1968, the director gave his own view about the meaning and significance of the film:

The work is not a propagandist one. It does not preach. It never makes any kind of explicit case. It gives you a situation and shows what happens in this particular instance when certain forces on one side are set against certain forces on the other, without any mutual understanding. The aim of the picture is not to incite but to help people to understand the resulting conflict….

It is about responsibility against irresponsibility, and consequently well within a strong puritan tradition. Its hero, Mick, is a hero in the good honorable, old-fashioned sense of the word. He is someone who arrives at his own beliefs and stands up for those beliefs, if necessarily against the world. The film is, I think, deeply anarchistic. People persistently misunderstand the term anarchistic, and think it just means wildly chucking bombs about, but anarchy is a social and political philosophy which puts the highest possible value on responsibility. The notion of someone who wants to change the world is not the notion of an irresponsible person.

The critics may have sniffed but the public loved it, and If… went onto win the Palme D’Or for Best Film at Cannes in 1969.

Cast and Crew brings together the key individuals involved in the making of If…: producer Michael Medwin, writer David Sherwin, assistant director Stephen Frears, cameraman Miroslaw Ondricek, editor David Gladwell, along with archive footage of Lindsay Anderson. The format of the show (guests interviewed in a studio) is a wee bit cosy, especially for such a revolutionary film, however, there is plenty of fascinating insight into the making of this classic movie.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Evil Instincts’: Malcolm McDowell, Benicio Del Toro & Ron Perlman go psycho over household chores

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A quirky series of short films, made for GQ magazine, in which “Bad Guy” actors, such as Malcolm McDowell, Benicio Del Toro, and Ron Perlman, ham-up various household chores.

Director Nadav Kander explained the evolution of the idea to 1.4

GQ USA asked me to photograph the villains of the acting world and they also wanted some moving imagery for their web site. I thought of these ideas in collaboration first with Zoe Tomlinson who I work closely with and then we discussed the scenarios with the magazine.

At first I thought that it would be best to slowly draw away from each actor while they acted out their nasty deeds to reveal that they were simply doing every day activities but then I thought it more questioning and elegant to simply turn the actor around and fade. Introducing the Hangman game idea for the end-type was to encourage the viewer to guess the action.

There’s fun to be had, true, but mainly in getting the answers wrong.
 

Malcolm McDowell rues his lack of a dish-washer.
 

Benicio Del Toro getting his chopper out in the kitchen.
 
Ron Perlman, Mark Strong, and more get their hands dirty, after the jump…

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Bryan Forbes: An interview with the quiet man of British Cinema, 1971

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It seems that if you are talented and you live long enough, then you will eventually win some recognition for your art. Last year, actor, writer and director Bryan Forbes won a British Film Institute Fellowship. It was a hell of a time of a time coming for a man whose greatest work was made during the 1950s, 1960s and1970s, and who hasn’t made a movie in over 20-years. Yet, the award was more than deserved, and only a small token of praise directors as diverse as Forbes merits. I hope this award (which undoubtedly should also have been given to Ken Russell during his lifetime) will bring a reassessment to one of British cinema’s quite mavericks.

Bryan Forbes is responsible for such classic movies as Whistle Down the Wind, The L-Shaped Room, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, The Whisperers, and The Stepford Wives. If that wasn’t enough, Forbes has also directed Of Human Bondage, George Segal in King Rat, Michael Caine in Deadfall, Malcolm McDowell and Nanette Newman in Raging Moon and the fairy tale romance, The Slipper and the Rose.

Forbes started off as an actor, and was hailed as one of best Shakespearean actors of his generation. On film he is a recognizable face in many of those British “Bulldog Breed” flicks of the 1950s. From here, he progressed as a writer, with over 30 film screenwriting credits to his name—from The Cockleshell Heroes, to the brilliance of The League of Gentlemen, to Robert Downey’s Chaplin.

In the late 1960s, Forbes took up a position as Head of Associated British (EMI) Films, where he was involved in financing such films as The Railway Children and The Tales of Beatrix Potter. However, he resigned his position in 1971, frustrated by his inability to develop and produce films that he believed in. Forbes view on film is summed-up by an answer from this interview, made after his resignation in April 1971.

‘Life is pretty grotty, and anything that brings back a little Romanticism to life is not to be despised.’

There is a truth here, and while we hanker after films that push boundaries and shock our imaginations into overdrive, there is much to be said for those who can deliver strong, emotionally rewarding entertainments—like Bryan Forbes.
 

 
With thanks to NellyM
 

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How much does it cost for Malcolm McDowell to go to the toilet?: A rare interview from 1976

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Malcolm McDowell contemplates how much it costs for him to sit on the toilet when making a movie, in this interview with Denis Tuohy from 1976.

The desk-to-desk style of this interview makes Mr. McDowell look like he is visiting his bank manager for a loan. Indeed, money prays on McDowell’s mind, as he reveals his next film Caligula was already budgeted at $7million, which is a lot of weight to have “riding on his neck.” (It ended-up costing $22m.)

McDowell is one of the finest actors in the world, who has made more than a handful of cinema’s greatest and most important films. But overall, he seems to have been often let down by his choice of roles. He talks positively about his intuition when deciding whether a script is worth doing, just by reading its first few pages. Yet, this hardly explains why he made Jezebel’s Kiss or Where Truth Lies, Disturbed or some of the other straight-to-video fodder he has appeared in since 1990.

That said, it’s probably not McDowell’s fault, rather the terrifying lack of intelligence and imagination that runs Hollywood film studios. Personally, I’d watch McDowell in anything, even The Mentalist (where, let’s be clear, his character Bret Stiles would piss on Patrick Jane from a great height, as Jane was caught by the Police, while millionaire Stiles wasn’t). Compare McDowell’s American TV work with his British TV performances: he may thrill in CSI: Miami, but he is brilliant in the BBC’s Our Friends in the North.

For years, McDowell has tried to make Monster Butler, the true story of infamous killer butler, Archibald Hall. As of November this year, this film was once again put on hold (canceled) due to lack of funds. I sincerely hope that in 2013, the year of McDowell’s 70th birthday, some producer out there has the intelligence to finance what is sure to be one of McDowell’st greater films.
 

 
With many thanks to NellyM
 

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An Examination of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, from 1972

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This is rather good: An Examination of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, with Malcolm McDowell, looking like a beautiful fallen angel, and Anthony Burgess, looking like a slightly suspect Classics teacher, discussing A Clockwork Orange.

Made a year after the film’s release, this informal discussion avoids much of the controversy surrounding the film, focussing instead on the book’s genesis, its themes, the making of the film and McDowell’s experience of working with Kubrick. All jolly interesting stuff, but a few more probing, difficult questions would have been real horrorshow. That said, it’s an important historical and cultural record, and there’s also a brief section on the film’s music by Wendy Carlos, together with a fine selection of clips, which makes this well worth watching.
 

 
Also on DM

Try not to wince: ‘A Clockwork Orange’ eye scene GIF’d


 

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