A Zoom Discussion of if.... (1969) 111 min | Mechanics' Institute

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A Zoom Discussion of if.... (1969) 111 min
May 2020 - The British New Wave

CinemaLit Curator Matthew Kennedy

CinemaLit Popcorn Pop-Up Salon: May British New Wave

Hello Film Lovers,

Welcome back to CinemaLit! We have missed our Friday night gatherings. Laura, Pam, and I are excited to launch this new format for CinemaLit as we Shelter at Home. We will be viewing films on Kanopy and gathering online for a Popcorn Pop-Up Salon!

We start up with a month of British New Wave with three fantastic films from that rich era: Room at the Top (1959), A Taste of Honey (1961), and Billy Liar (1963). We finish May with two other British films of the 1960s that fall outside a standard labeling of New Wave: the anti-war film King & Country (1964) and the subversive if... (1968).


Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit Curator

All you will need is either a Mechanic’s Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom two days in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.


May: British New Wave

Subversive, allegorical, and mordantly funny, Lindsay Anderson's if…. arrived with seismic impact late in 1968. Set in an all boys English public school more interested in war games and power trips than education, it became a leading cinematic expression of late 1960s anti-authoritarianism.

As Mick Travis, Malcolm McDowell, in his auspicious film debut, leads a small band of "Crusaders." While the ineffective and uninspiring administration, detached faculty, and vicious students earn our disdain, the film does not deliver simple messages of crime and justice. Instead, if…. elicits complex responses as it rejects sentimentality, caricature, and tidy resolutions. What are we feeling when Travis says, "One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place"?

Anderson virtually defined the British New Wave with his writings on "Free Cinema" and directing the blistering 1963 drama This Sporting Life. Even so, he spent a fair portion of the 1960s directing Shakespeare and Chekhov on stage. He directed McDowell as Mick Travis again in O Lucky Man! (1973) and Britannia Hospital (1982), though the three films have little in common with each other. In a demonstration of his considerable range, Anderson later directed Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, and Ann Sothern in the wistful and elegiac Whales of August (1987).

More about British New Wave Cinema

British New Wave Cinema of the late 1950s and early 1960s was a social-realist film movement that shed light on the hardships of working class life, usually in industrialized Northern England. These films have guts. They put into harsh focus the previously taboo subjects of race, abortion, unconventional families, homosexuality, and disability.

This moment in film history is also sometimes called British Neo Realism, or “Kitchen Sink” or “Angry Young Men” dramas. The British New Wave strove for cinema’s greater engagement in social issues. The films neither patronize nor sentimentalize the working classes, but rather expose the realities of being poor or struggling in England.

Director Lindsay Anderson’s manifesto on a series of modest documentaries he made in 1956 came to embody the entire movement: “The concern of [these films] is with some aspect of life as it is lived in this country today… Implicit in our attitudes is a belief in freedom, in the importance of people, and in the significance of the everyday.”

1959’s Room at the Top, all about a working class man’s ruthless social climbing, took the kitchen sink out of documentaries and into commercial feature filmmaking. Room was both groundbreaking and influential, and was followed by a brilliant succession of realist films, including Look Back in Anger (1959), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), A Kind of Loving (1962), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), The L-Shaped Room (1962), This Sporting Life (1963), and Billy Liar (1963).

Key directors, in addition to Anderson, were Jack Clayton, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger, and Bryan Forbes. The list of actors who came to international prominence with these films is deeply impressive: Laurence Harvey, Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Albert Finney, Rachel Roberts, Tom Courtney, Rita Tushingham, and Richard Harris, among others.

I love these films. They’re tough-minded and uncompromising. On first view they may appear stripped of all cinematic finery, oppressive in their row houses, factories, drab offices, and brutal black-and-white close-ups. But they are bursting with heart and passion. Their austerity is punctuated by creative directing, scripts that crackle with insight and wit, exceptional acting, and our knowledge that they fundamentally changed film styles and storytelling. We’re still feeling their influence.


Curated by Matthew Kennedy

Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”


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