Black and White Scenes in If…. (film still from If....)

If.... (1968)

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.

3 Responses to “Black and White Scenes in If….”

  1. Olivia

    Very interesting, thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. If – Who Dares Wins – tape 506 | VHiStory

    […] any narrative reason for it, so I wondered if it was a budgetary thing – it turns out I was sort of right. “When they were filming the chapel scenes at Cheltenham College, they were working on a […]

  3. Chris Dickinson

    I was at the College at the time, and appear in a few scenes (including the Chapel) in the background. Saw the rushes in London.

    The gossip at the time was that some reels were ruined through a fault, and the monochrome decision was taken for budget reasons.

    The pupils were paid £1 each for about two or three weeks filming (I guess most of us appeared in about 3-6 scenes). The accumulated pay in my boarding house was seized in order to buy a TV set (which didn’t work).

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