Lindsay Anderson’s controversial satire on the British class system, set in a public school, sparked a well-attended discussion. Some of us were passionate about this film. It was interesting to learn that the writers – David Sherwin and John Howlett – had attended Tonbridge school.
Although ‘The Crusaders’ were disconcertingly older than the parts they were playing, the school scenes seemed to chime with some members of the discussion group. Some of us had experienced oppressive schooling or fellow school boys being violent.
The teachers were characterised as eccentric and boring but not violent, like the ‘Whips’ – the prefects. Even the headmaster talked about understanding the revolutionary schoolboys. We talked a little about the shocking scene when Travis is badly caned and then has to shake hands and thank the prefect. This was, it seemed, not a sign of being tamed and losing his spirit, but simply the ritual behaviour expected in that context.
We found the use of combined black and white/colour in scenes to be fascinating, our discussion leader explaining about ‘the alienation effect’ (Brecht’s verfremdungeffekt). The quirky scene with the chaplain in the drawer showed it was hard to know the boundaries between fantasy and reality. This was why the final act of rebellion massacre scene, with authority figures shot down, felt disturbing and dreamlike, but not harrowing.