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Cast | Notes | Pictures | My Summary | My Review | Together Again | Together Before | Understanding the Film
|Scepter Bearer||John Sharp|
|Young Man||Stephen Moore|
|German actor||Anthony Hopkins|
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Written by Shelagh Delaney (Based on her story & screenplay)
Director of Photography - Miroslav Ondrícek
Music Composed by Misha Donat
Editor - Kevin Brownlow
Sound Editor - John Fletcher
Casting Director - Miriam Brickman
Art Director - David Marshall
Production Manager - Jake Wright
Associate Producer - Michael Deeley
The German singer - Anthony Hopkins
The film is black and white and eerie music
plays. A large flag flies on top of a castle size building in London. A boy holds a large
white pigeon far below. The scene switches to an office building. Inside a woman
is typing at a desk, surrounded by the exact same desks in front and behind her. A man is
buffing the floor. She looks bored, then we see her hanging, then it's back to
normal. She runs out, clopping down a flight of stairs. Then she goes down
another flight where a woman is cleaning the stairs. She walks down the street,
past Lloyd's bank, crosses an intersection, past a man listening to the soccer
game on a radio. The UK is playing Albania. The man is getting excited and then
Albania scores, he gets mad and smashes the radio. Two cops stand there talking.
She passes by them and heads to the train station. An announcement says all
services are subject to slight delay. She sits. A couple in front of her trade
sections of the newspaper. A siren sounds and she gets up and heads out to the
train. A businessman runs up
to her and says he likes girls to be attractive, independent and can think for
themselves. She ignores him and he buys something, then keeps following her. He
keeps going on and on about himself as he walks. He can't bear people with chips
on their shoulders and he has working class friends. She buys a magazine and
keeps going. She gets on the train and closes the door. He keeps going through
the window. He says money can only buy you a good table at a restaurant. The
train pulls away and she says, "I'll write". The man drops to his knees and
sings of his love for her.
Inside the train it's chaos and it's packed. A woman with a large scarf makes a
speech about how long can they go on like this. A man yells for her and plays
guitar. The girl walks by her and looks for a place to sit. Two man stand up and
one leaves so she can sit. A bald man sits back down and helps her put her coat
up. A man across the aisle yells over about how much he can take of them tonight
and talks to the girl, then the man. The bald man starts singing "It was
early in November as I remember" and the whole train starts singing along.
Soon after the lights go out.
Next we see the train has stopped and a man outside is banging on the window to get up. He moves along and continues. Then everyone arises and exits the train. It is surreally quiet. The only sound is the footsteps of the group walking. The girl is behind them all. She suddenly stops and stares at a group of people going by. One is blind, another limps and some pull and iron lung with nuns around it. She then continues to a parking lot and walks by a church. The music is sinister as she looks up. We see a clock, then large statues of men. A loud car sound comes by. A woman runs as a car chases her. It stops and two men get out and chase her around the street and into a park, grab her, carry her into the car and take off. She watches, then walks away. The streets are empty then a jogger passes her, she turns, walks past flags, then down a street with a brick row. Slapping sounds are heard, then we see it's a butcher. Then it switches to color and the door opens and a woman mops the floor.
The girl looks, switch back to B/W, a bleak cityscape of row houses, a bus stage sign and a white bus is coming down the street. She heads toward the bus and signals it. The sign on the double decker bus reads "See Our City" across it. She gets on the back, a woman opens the door, says good morning and lets her in. They are leaving square A to square B, traveling 25 mph, visibility is moderate. The mayor offers the girl a snack after she sits in the front. The woman guide comes over to the girl and thanks her for taking the see your city bus. She gives her a map to follow along. They will see places old and new, and meet people noted for their warmth and friendliness. Then the bus suddenly stops and the woman falls on the girl. Outside it switches to color and children screaming run across the street. Inside the bus back to B/W, the mayor is glad to see the girl, happy that not all youngsters spend their lives singing, dancing and listening to records. The bus continues on, makes a u-turn and stops. The people get off and line up next to the bus. The girl walks away. The worker hands out items to the crowd, then spots the girl across the street, runs over and hands her something and walks her back to the bus. She asks if she's all right now, yes, you sure? She explains they are walkie talkie sets provided for their visitors on the tour. She shows how to raise the antennae, turn it on and put it to your ear so they can all hear details on the tour.
She leads them off and talks into the walkie talkie. There are 84 industries there with 136 companies that employ 875,000 people. Then it switches to color as the men of a plant load logs that fill the screen. Back to B/W as the group is inside an industrial company. Huge machinery spins around as people work on it. They walk through the factory and past the assembly lines as older men work. As they leave it switches to color. B/W as they move and walk up a huge stairwell into the sky that is covered and leads to a factory full of pig carcasses in color. Then it changes to a noisy, smoky area as steam flows. Then machines pound away and men handle hot irons. Color - large hot rings move, B/W - the group watches. It switches back and forth from B/W to color as people work and they watch as a large furnace opens.
Color - Back on the bus. B/W - the bus moves through town with lots of traffic on the other side. The girl now sits on the top level, which is open air. The mayor says he was born in the city, is proud of it, good men, good by nature. As a boy he played barefoot in these streets and now he's worth ¾ of a million pounds. He puts his hand on the girls' leg and she asks if he minds not doing that, gets up and changes seats. A man with a large scepter says money is the root of all progress. The bus stops and the mayor and the man with the scepter are now on the street. He says to the group they are making progress and he's glad of the steps they are taking to solve this problem. Then they go into another factory. There is a large black man working in fancy dress. The mayor says it's good of him to be there, coming from a world that moves an oxcart with a plow. They walk to another room where women are working at a round table stitching. He says the counsel took it over. Color - they work on a massive tapestry. B/W - the group is sitting in a small theater watching a man on stage singing in German. The mayor says there's never been an age like the one they live in and he finds it essential to establish a community center like the one they are in for entertainment. They leave and walk down the stairs. Two men are in fencing garb with long swords. A man from the group runs over. Color - he fights with one of the men.
B/W - back on the bus. The guide says the area holds many citizens and they are very proud of it. They pass huge brick tenements with many floors that repeat building after building. She says how pleasant it can be to live in such flats if they are pleasant and in good surroundings. The scepter man says to the girl to watch the gasworks coming up on the right, it's not usually known that this was one of the first cities to provide gas. Then the guide says they are leaving the city for the country. It is know for spacious residences and parks. They go to Queen's Oak Park where people are walking about.
Color - a man with a dog fires a rifle, woman toss a dummy up in the air with a blanket, people sit on a blanket, a man feels his leg, a girl is on swing and all wear period clothes. The man fires his gun. B/W - a bird falls and the dog grabs it. The group goes through a greenhouse, then back outside. The gardener waves to the mayor. He promises good things in the next two weeks. He says polished shoes with a mahogany smile. They all laugh. The man has worked for him for 50 years. Arlington Hall was donated to the city, built buy Joshua Arlington, a great industrialist. The industrial revolution made him very rich. In the old days it was a very different place. The scepter man says he had "God help me" inscribed on his tomb and laughs. She leads them to the academic girls school with fine standards. Inside a huge group watches a band play classical music. The hall has taken the place as the integral part of the life of the community. They enter. Color - a woman welcomes each person. The hall is set up to ready the girls for the world of tomorrow. B/W - inside the girls sing a patriotic song. The group sits and watches as the girl sings along. Back on the bus, the singing is still heard. A horn blares. They stop. The mayor is proud of the library, art gallery and museum. They will find copies of every English book printed and a fine representation of paintings. Inside they walk up stairs as a violin plays. A large chamber with loud sounds of people whistling and singing, "to be or not to be, tally ho" is entered. The mayor gives a speech from the bible (Proverbs 4:7), of all things seek wisdom. Then he takes them downstairs and leads them to the library.
It is dark and cramped, they are surrounded by rows of books. He explains that a man has created trouble, he has no sympathy for the clergy and books selected at random were homosexual titles. He won't say what they are. He takes them out and publishes his own books of revulsion. It's terrible he says as he walks through a dark patch. He wonders how many more dirty books there are there. A woman asks shall they have a cup of tea. The girl looks at a large painting of a man leading wolves. A black man talks to her explaining about tribal culture. They live in a world haunted by the destructive powers they created. She walks into another room. Color - the man follows and keeps talking about human values being preserved. She walks down the stairs. B/W - the group is having tea. The guide says it's time to leave. A woman wants them to return their cups and saucers. It is time to go the city museum. They all pile into the elevator at once. The door closes, nothing happens, then it opens again. The mayor asks the attendant if it works. He says no, so they all get out. They walk past stuffed animals and dinosaurs. A woman looks at a white owl and a monkey. Strange stuffed faces stares back blankly. The girl puts her glasses on to look at a lion.
Color - an explosion, gunfire then a woman running and screaming with her clothes torn. B/W - machine guns fire, then a solider grabs her and she yells. The group is sitting in bleachers watching this. A man says the city defenders are doing a valuable service. They applaud. Soldiers are around doing a drill. A body is lowered down a ladder from a bombed out building. Color - explosion. B/W - people watch, men dig through rubble and unload equipment, soldiers pull a dummy out from rubble and pass it along. More explosions, smoke and air raid sirens go off. Firemen spray water on a bombed out building on fire. The sirens stop, the girl gets up and the group behind her has turned into mannequins. She walks out into the rubble area, then goes through an asphalt playground where children play and one does summersaults.
She walks down a rainy street past flatblocks and passes a couple in an alley. The man says come on, why not? She says not. He says, "I thought you liked me." She says she does, then runs away. The girl turns around and watches. The guy says to her she wanted it then she left. She's not getting it from him and he runs off. The girl walks on, hears fast piano playing and stops. She looks in the window and sees the back of the woman playing. She watches a minute, then leaves. It's getting dark as she hears a buzzing then walks to another window and sees an old woman shaving and old man with an electric razor. She walks away and the street lights are now on and people walk by. She walks into a café and gets food wrapped up. The male owner gives her change and his register is loud. The girl opens up her food and sits. The man says time for bed, his wife cleans the tables and they trade clichés. Time to close, if they don't do today's work today, they'll do Saturday's work on Sunday and so on and not catch Saturday's work again. She puts up chairs on the table. The girl reads, eats and pays no notice.
This is the most difficult review I've ever
had to write. I liked the film, but I really have no idea what it really means.
At the end I'll tell you what I think it means which I guess is the point. In a way the whole thing feels like a testing ground for
if.... The black and white to color switching, Arthur Lowe as the lead authority
figure, the unnamed girl character who also resembles the girl in if...., a
group of children of the same sex singing in a school, the biblical quote about seeking wisdom
which is the intro card to if.... here he quotes it out loud, the shifting of the plot
and the fantastic aspect of certain scenes. In if.... it's the chaplain in the
drawer at the end. Here it's the girl hanging in the beginning and the group
turning into mannequins at the end.
Though it is based Shelagh's semi-autobiographical short story, it feels like Lindsay had a bunch of ideas for scenes he liked and needed a central character to attach them together. It starts out ominous with shots that are random as eerie music plays over it, there's no dialog and we are tricked into thinking something sinister will happen. So when we are introduced to the main character, we have no idea if she too will disappear soon after. She works at a boring looking accountant style office that's so bad at one point she even fantasizes about hanging herself and no one cares. She's the only one left working in the office as everyone else around is the cleaning crew. It's hard to determine what her shift is because when she leaves she passes a clock that looks like it reads 3:15. Maybe the place closes down at 3pm because when she exits and for the rest of the story it is daytime.
It seems she is going home from work. She goes to the train station which is busy and a businessman follows her, seeming to hit on her and spill his guts at the same time. She completely ignores him saying nothing. This seems like a jibe at the upperclass - that they have a lot to say, but say nothing and the working class isn't interested in anything they have to say anyway. She says she'll write him, but it's sarcastic as she doesn't know who he is. The train itself is like a circus. Another strange scene is that everyone on the train falls asleep and has to be waken up upon arrival. It is still daylight, so there is no indication of how long it's been, but everyone sleeping would indicate it was quite a while.
I'm not sure what to make of the scene with the people pushing the iron lung. The sickness of the country? The area around them is dying? With the blind man amongst them it's saying no one wants to see what is happening. Then another odd scene is with men that look like they are kidnapping a woman. Maybe it's to show how people don't get involved as the girl says nothing. Instead of going home, a white bus catches her eye and she gets on. The rest of the film revolves around this event. It seems like the tour is free to anyone as she doesn't have to buy a ticket or anything. At first the mayor is nice by offering her food and compliments. Later he isn't so nice when he gets fresh by putting his hand on her leg. Soon after it turns into a walking tour where the guide explains what is going on through a walkie talkie. It's funny to see these early electronic gadgets with the huge antennas. Soon after the walkie talkies disappear and aren't seen again for the rest of the tour. A seemingly random grouping of visits to different industrial factories follows. Nothing much interesting happens until she gets back on the bus and the mayor comes on to her. The other main character carries a large scepter around for no reason I can see and generally seems to be the mayor's yes man.
When they come to the theater it turns out to be the most important part of the movie. It certainly wasn't anything then and wouldn't be now, except it features the film debut of one of the all-time most well known actors. If his name wasn't in the credits at the end I would've had no clue who it was. But when I saw Anthony Hopkins listed I had to go back and find him. It wasn't easy because his character wasn't listed and even if it was it wouldn't have helped much. Even worse is he's only seen from the point of view of the group in the back. So his face can't be made out. All you can see is a thin man with thick black hair on top, black tight high-waisted pants on a stage in front of a white curtain. Plus he's singing in German which doesn't give away his definitive voice. So in back to back Lindsay Anderson films we see the debut of two of the greatest actors of their generation with Hopkins here and Malcolm McDowell in if....
More industries are seen and then the area traveled gets more bleak with no signs of grass or tress, just huge apartment buildings. Then when they head out to a park it is also surreal with everyone in period costume making it look like they traveled back in time or walked out of Victorian paintings. The mayor takes over as the guide as this is either where he works, lives or both. They go through a greenhouse, girls school, art museum and the library. He leads them through it and tells a bizarre story about going through many books at random and they were full of homosexual stories and they investigated one of the authors because of it. This might be a way to decry the illegalization of homosexuality and how it's wrong for people to look into your private sexual behavior. Then it wouldn't be England without tea time which just appears out of nowhere like a guitar in an Elvis Presley movie.
Then comes the funniest scene in the film when the group piles into an elevator that doesn't work even though the attendant knew it didn't work and they have to get out and walk. They head into a typical museum with stuffed animal displays from history. Then it seems like it's the end of the world. The area is bombed out, there's gunfire, explosions and everything associated with a war. When a woman running and screaming is grabbed by a soldier only then do we find out it was a drill. After fires, sirens and a search and rescue operation, it all ends. The girl gets up, but the entire group that was with her is no longer real. They are all department store mannequins. Was the whole trip on the white bus just her dream? Is it to show they are just stereotypes, cardboard cutouts of real people? The bus is nowhere to be seen and she just walks off into the town. She passes children playing in an unfriendly area that is surrounded by pavement, no green anywhere.
She passes a couple where the girl is playing hard to get and the guy wants to have sex with her, but she runs away. It's like a replay of the man at the train station who was chasing her. But here it's the lower class and it's all spelled out, there is no guessing their intentions. Maybe he is trying to say that while most people want to have sex, it doesn't happen enough to their liking. For the first time it is getting dark as she comes across more random scenes - a woman playing piano and a woman shaving a man. The only connection I can see is that he's saying the women are in control of sex, arts and hygiene. But why say that? Then she goes into a cafe to get something to eat. It ends like it began with her sitting and someone cleaning up as the woman owner puts chairs up and prepares to close.
That's it, a quick 45 minutes. I'm not sure if Lindsay was trying to say anything specific. Maybe he just wanted to show someone observing random bits of life. She is just an observer and offers no commentary on what she sees. The only times she acknowledges anything is to tell the mayor to stop touching her. Maybe he just wanted us to look at it and come up with our own meaning. It has never been released on home video on any format and because of it's length it's rarely seen. In fact it took me twice the length of the film just to write this. It was supposed to be one part of a three part film where Tony Richardson's 'Red and Blue' and Peter Brook's 'The Ride of the Valkyries' would round it out. United Artists who were paying for it backed out because the parts didn't connect. The second and third act's were filmed, but never shown. It is referred to as Brechtian or a tribute to Brecht who was a favorite playwright of Lindsay's that he directed in the theater. This would explain Hopkins' scene. Anderson himself called it his lost film and he's right. In if.... the changes from black and white to color were for the lighting and therefore make sense, here they are just random, to surprise you. To me the film is a satire of tour groups, tours and the people who represent them. How they are self important about what they are showing you, but in the end it's just boring. I recommend the film, mostly because it is so well made and good looking in a style I love compared to the short attention span style I loathe today.
1968 - Lindsay and Arthur Lowe worked on if....
1973 - Lindsay, Arthur Lowe and Patricia Healey worked on O Lucky Man!
1980 - Fanny Carby and Anthony Hopkins were in The Elephant Man
1982 - Lindsay, Arthur Lowe and Patricia Healey worked on Britannia Hospital.
1963 - Lindsay and Arthur Lowe worked on This Sporting Life.
I asked Paul Sutton who edited the Lindsay Anderson diaries for help with some of the more bizarre scenes.
Q: Does the iron lung scene represent the sickness of the country? With the blind man amongst them it's saying no one wants to see what is happening?
A: Correct! It was because it was interesting visually (it looks like a Medieval torture device), and the unaccountability of Medical Science in Britain is a major theme of OLM! and BH.
Q: Why do the people turn into dummies in the end?
A: It's one of Lindsay's beloved visual metaphors. He is saying that all these pompous people in their costumes aren't real people at all. They don't have real feelings, they don't look at the world with real eyes, they are servants of The State, puppets of Establishment. It is also a very conscious reference to the finale of Zero de Conduite, in which the boy's parents at the school speech day turn into dummies.
Q: Why is the change from black and white to color so random, unlike in if....?
A: He did originally design the film to be in black and white. The high-contrast ability of black and white photography is perfect for capturing the sense of the grimness and loneliness of industrial locations, particularly for misty days and night scenes. Lindsay had seen Ken Russell's B/W documentary about Shelagh Delaney (the actress in Lindsay's film is a dead ringer for the Delaney who wrote The White Bus). In Russell's film, Delaney talks about how the landscape of Salford has influenced her writing, and instead of the camera focusing on Delaney, it takes to the streets and sites of Salford. Both Lindsay and Shelagh were inspired by the Ken Russell film. The idea for the color inserts in probably came when Lindsay saw the massive industrial furnaces. The red roaring fires made it look like a vision of hell. This astonishing sight would have been wasted in black and white. So when one color scene was 'in' it made for an amusing spectacle to add others (which were mostly random). Of course, this pops the bubble of those who think if... had black and white sequences because the filmmakers ran out of money.
This page © 2006-08 by Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net