Lindsay Anderson’s If…. finally saw a DVD release thanks to Criterion, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The picture has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The transfer (which comes from the same high-definition transfer that would be used for their Blu-ray edition a few years later) looks rather splendid. The film has both colour and black-and-white scenes and both are rendered nicely. The colour sequences have a drab look overall, thanks to the heavy use of browns and blacks, but they’re saturated beautifully and do manage to still pop a bit. Reds, when they appear, also look very clean (though not surprisingly the eventual Blu-ray release handled reds quite a bit better.) Black levels are fairly nice, a little washed in places, but details still remain. Black and white sequences have nice contrast and actually come off a bit sharper than the colour sequences, but detail overall is impressive.
There’s some minor halos in places, and noise can get a little heavy (the final shots of the film, which contain a lot of smoke, are where this is most noticeable.) There are still some marks remaining in the source but overall it’s been cleaned up nicely. In the end it’s a superb looking DVD transfer. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
This two-disc set comes with a few supplements spread across both.
On the first disc we get an audio commentary by film critic David Robinson edited in with interview segments from 2002 with actor Malcolm McDowell. I remember initially feeling this would be Robinson’s deal with bits from McDowell here and there but that’s not the case. McDowell’s material may have most of the track while Robinson seems to be working around it, even referring to what McDowell says. It’s edited together seamlessly, almost giving the idea the two are together. I had feared a dry scholarly track but this presentation actually keeps it fresh and entertaining. Robinson offers the more analytical aspect, talking about the film’s style, Anderson’s work in general and his influences (John Ford, Jean Vigo, Luis Buñuel), and also offers some context to the film. McDowell ends up offering more anecdotal portions, as well as information about working with Anderson (who he obviously adored) and notes on his character. Thanks to its presentation and breezy nature it’s a great track and one I wholly recommend listening to.
The remaining supplements are found on the second single-layer disc.
First on here is an episode from a show called Cast and Crew, which brings together cast and crew members of classic British films. This 42-minute episode of course concentrates on If…., and brings together director of photography Miroslav Ond?i?ek, assistant director Stephen Frears, producer Michael Medwin, screenwriter David Sherwin, editor Ian Rakoff, and, through pre-recorded footage, actor Malcolm McDowell (an older interview from 1985 with Lindsay Anderson is also shown.) The participants all talk about the unlikely production, starting with how the project came to light and how Lindsay Anderson came to be involved. They talk about the themes within the film (like the school as a metaphor for the hierarchal nature of English society) and the basis for many of the elements in the film (Mick was based on a former schoolmate of Sherwin’s.) They offer stories about the problems they faced, like when all financing was pulled at the last minute and how the project was saved by a visit to Paramount, or the problem with a gun that would keep on jamming and the creative way they got around that. They talk about how some of the more surreal elements made their way into the film, what Anderson was like to work with (with McDowell just gushing again), and how the film was received, which was very mixed as suggested by the creative ad that came out for the film, showing both the positive and negative reviews. Some information in here is mentioned in the commentary but it offers a lot of fresh material and is a strong addition to the set.
A 14-minute interview with actor Graham Crowden is up next, with the actor talking about how he first met Anderson (confusing him with director Michael Anderson to his embarrassment) and then his work on If….. It was amusing hearing that this proper looking English gentleman was attracted to the script because of its rebellious side, feeling it represented the country at the moment. He then talks a bit about working with Anderson on some other films. Overall a fascinating interview subject with a dry wit that I like and another worthwhile addition.
Finally Criterion includes Anderson’s 1955 short documentary, the 22-minute Thursday’s Children, which won the short documentary Oscar. Looking surprisingly good, the feature looks at the (now outdated, as the menu notes state) techniques a school for the deaf used to teach its children. It’s an incredibly fascinating, tightly edited presentation, showing the children learn words, how to mouth words, and eventually how they are taught to make audible speech. Again, really fascinating despite any outdated aspects to it.
For the booklet David Ehrenstein provides an excellent essay about the film and its social themes, while David Sherwin’s piece again covers the long road the film took to get made. A mock interview with Lindsay Anderson (performed by Lindsay Anderson) from the original publicity material for the film is reprinted here along with the ad for the film that showed both the positive and negative critical responses to the film.
Overall we a get strong if somewhat skimpy selection of supplements, but they’re all worth the time and effort to go through, and do offers some great insight into the film. 7/10