Rewatching "If ..." (4 stars, Criterion Collection, $39.95), I realized that I don't shock as easily as I did before I was a film critic - and before I lived through years that have made Lindsay Anderson's 1968 classic seem far more plausible. Still, "If ..." retains its impact, even as it remains a quintessential 1960s film - a time when revolution seemed romantic for being a dead-end.
"If ..." stars Malcolm McDowell - who would carry this film's themes farther in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" - as Mick Travis. He's a student at the character-building English school College House, who rebels against Whips, the older students who sadistically run the show in the absence of authority or interest by the headmasters and teachers. Aided first by two pals, then two recruits, Travis orchestrates what amounts to guerilla warfare on their occupiers. It's great fun, until the film grows darker and more surreal, and culminates in what would have been the unthinkable, pre-Columbine.
Given a new high-def transfer supervised by the movie's cinematographer and remixed in 2.0 Dolby Digital, the two-disc set contains commentary by McDowell; a 2003 episode of the fine Scottish series "Cast and Crew" that's devoted to the film, and Anderson's Academy Award documentary from 1954, "Thursday's Children," which was about a school for deaf children that helped influence the look of "If ..."
Criterion remains in the shocking spirit of the `60s for the reissue of pair of films by Dusan Makavejev. "WR: Mysteries of the Organism" (3 stars, $39.95) grew from the Yugoslavian filmmaker's interest in the theories of Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst whose interest in human sexuality led him to claim he had harnessed an energy he named "orgone" that could cure neurosis and restore psychological health.
Into this examination of Reich's theories, Makavejev weaves a fictional story that is not altogether coherent, but celebrates what was then called "free sex" and contained the first graphic sexual imagery most art house patrons had seen on screen, as well as some obvious allusions to the Soviet Union's unwelcome influence on Yugoslavia.
Three years later came the envelope- (and taste-) pushing "Sweet Movie" (3 stars, $29.95), which equates personal freedom with sexual and political freedom in a satirical story built on the fleeting pleasures of candy. There is an adventurousness and recklessness in these films that wasn't found in Makavejev's later work or for that matter, the work of any filmmaker since.
Also new this week:
Before she was Lucy, Lucille Ball was a comic film actress who played a variety of characters who were not always wacky - and not always redheads. "The Lucille Ball Film Collection" (Warner, $49.98) brings together three pre-"I Love Lucy" features and two films from her later years. The best role here for Ball is 1942's "The Big Street" (3 stars), based on the Damon Runyon story "Little Pinks," with Henry Fonda as a hotel busboy who's in love with Ball, a vain nightclub singer who treats him with disdain until she suffers a career-ending accident.
In 1940's "Dance Girl Dance" (3 stars), Ball is terrific as the hard-headed Bubbles, who convinces naive ballerina Maureen O'Hara they can make more money in burlesque. 1943's "Du Barry Was a Lady" (3 stars) is the loonier version of "The Big Street." Nightclub hat-checker Red Skelton, pining over singer Ball, gets slipped a Mickey and dreams he's Louis XIV and Ball is Madame Du Barry. It was based on a Broadway play, as was 1963's deeply dated "Critic's Choice" (2 stars), with Bob Hope as a theater critic who may have to review the first play by his wife, Ball.
"Collection" concludes with 1974's disastrous adaptation of the Broadway hit "Mame" (1 star).
The films are available individually for $19.98, but the set has period shorts and cartoons.
TV on DVD:
"Simon Schama's The Power of Art" (BBC, $49.95) collects all eight episodes of the excellent BBC series on three discs.
Fans of David E. Kelley will be happy to see that the first - and best - seasons of his series "Picket Fences" and "The Practice" (Fox, $59.98 each) are finally available.
Paramount continues to compile the complete case log of "Perry Mason" with "Season Two, Vol. 1" ($38.99), 15 episodes from 1958-59.
Also getting the split season treatment is "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - Season 3. Vol. 1" (Fox, $39.98), which contains12 episodes on three discs.
Family pick of the week:
Filmgoers didn't find room in their schedules or their hearts at Christmas for "Miss Potter" (3 stars, Weinstein, $28.95). Yet this biography of Beatrix Potter, portrayed by Renee Zellweger in one of her best performances, is as rare an animal as any of those Potter created in "Peter Rabbit" and any other intelligent, brilliantly illustrated children's books. It's a charmer with heart and brains. The movie concentrates on Potter's initial efforts to get her book published, much to the horror of her social-climbing mother, who wants nothing more than for her 30-year-old "spinster" daughter to snag a suitable husband. Ewan McGregor is the publisher who brings the world to Potter and proves to her that men are worthwhile after all. The move is beautifully made, with Potter's drawings coming to life in a way that is never cloying, only whimsical and dramatically well-timed. There are no extras on the disc, but a special edition ($46.92) contains a hard-copy edition of "Beatrix Potter: A Journal" for those who want to learn more.