If Knowledge Hangs Around Your Neck

I found myself rewatching If… and O Lucky Man for the first time in decades recently, and the experience left me particularly nostalgic for the first time I saw the two movies, way back in the 1990s.

Watching them now, I still found all manner of things to enjoy, not least the sly surrealist humor that’s thread through both movies to greater or lesser extents. (If… is the angrier of the two, and O Lucky Man the more broadly comedic in its satire, but the two share the same DNA just as the share the same actors, directors, and characters — although, of course, neither is actually a sequel to the other.) Lindsay Anderson’s meandering direction remains a thrill, as well, feeling as if it’s ahead of its time in terms of later European directors.

This time around, though, I saw both as movies, as opposed to… whatever they were the first time out, for me. Back then, you see, they were more than just films; they had some power that I can’t explain even now, with years of hindsight.

Both movies came from the era that inspired Britpop, which was the dominant culture in my life at the time; but, as opposed to the self-conscious irony that was the underlying theory for Britpop in general, If… and O Lucky Man are heartfelt almost to a fault, sincere in their arguments even as they try to make jokes about the situation their characters are in — and that sincerity was something that I found particularly affecting, at the time.

In terms of subject matter and targets, they paralleled other things that I was into at the time — Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles most of all, unsurprisingly; Morrison has talked about their love for both of the movies, which was one of the things that drew me to them in general — and acted as a signpost that there was more out there than people keeping subjects at arm’s length or more interested in style points than actual points.

If… and O Lucky Man introduced me to things like Terry Southern, Lavinia Greenlaw, Deborah Levy and more, art that made my world bigger. (Not bad for movies more than a quarter century old even when I discovered them.) I feel as if I need more of that, even now.

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