Lindsay Anderson John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[If … is a] film of considerable distinction though missed excellence…. If … is much more effective while it chronicles the faintly surreal realities of English public-school life than when it enters the domain of the surreal whole hog. The story of three musketeers of nonconformity in a tradition-sodden English school functions admirably on the level of smug authoritarianism crossed by petty defiance; but the final holocaust would have required both more imaginative writing and, in the director, the unlikely combination of a Jean Vigo and a Luis Buñuel. (p. 109)

The infiltration of the surreal is not uncleverly managed…. [Strange] strands crop up in the fabric of things, but they are not shown as one person's vision, rather as a world slowly turning psychotic.

This may sound defensible, even challenging, on paper; on the screen, it comes out untidy, indeed pretentious…. As in This Sporting Life, one gets a feeling of richly sculptured individual scenes, but a deficient sense of the whole and somewhat nebulous continuity.

Still, David Sherwin's script has many racy moments, Lindsay Anderson's direction is always textured and full of gusto, and a cast of mingled newcomers and old-timers blends into a flawlessly incongruous cross section of bankrupt paideutics. The funny or cruel scenes work very handily; it is only the apocryphal and apocalyptic material that fails to persuade. Yet the film is never uninteresting, seldom unspirited, and there is some sort of intelligence even in its miscalculations. (p. 110)

John Simon, "The Youth Film: 'If …': 'Greetings'; 'Changes'; 'Three in the Attic'" (originally published as "Youth Kick," in The New Leader, Vol. LII, No. 5, March 17, 1969), in his Movies into Film: Film Criticism 1967–1970 (copyright © 1971 by John Simon; reprinted with permission of The Dial Press), Dial, 1971, pp. 109-13.∗