People have often wondered why Lindsay Anderson’s iconic film If… is partly shot in black and white. Was there some kind of symbolism at play? The film already contains moments of fantasy, so do the changes between black & white and colour signify something to do with those multiple layers of reality?
Well, no. The actual reason is rather more prosaic. When they were filming the chapel scenes at Cheltenham College, they were working on a tight schedule and a limited budget. Lighting the chapel for colour would have taken much longer than lighting for black and white, so they plumped for the latter. Anderson decided he liked it so much that he decided to shoot other scenes in monochrome too, as Malcolm McDowell recounts on the DVD commentary:
I was sitting next to Lindsay watching the rushes (the dailies) of the chapel sequence, and he said, “I do love black and white”, and I said, “I love it too.”
He said, “What are we shooting tomorrow? Well, let’s do it in black and white.”
It was arbitrary. He was an absolute anarchist.
Anderson may have wanted do film the entire film in black and white, but this wouldn’t have been possible: by this point, the film studios had an eye on TV sales, and that meant colour.