Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘IF’ stands as one of the greatest poems written. One line from the poem stands above the entrance to the Centre Court at Wimbledon highlighting the polar positions of ‘Triumph and Disaster’, true descriptions of the emotions experienced by the players at the conclusion of their tennis battle, one winner, one loser.
The poem was first published in the “Brother Square-Toes” chapter of Rewards and Fairies, a 1910 collection of verse and short stories (http://www.gradesaver.com/rudyard-kipling-poems/study-guide/summary-if-) and according to Kipling’s own autobiography was inspired by the exploits of Leander Starr Jameson, in particular the Jameson Raid.
The raid was launched on 29 December 1895, when Jameson and armed forces crossed the border from Bechuanaland (Botswana). Jameson, however, had been too hasty. Earlier, while Jameson waited on the border, the Uitlander leaders in Johannesburg were arguing among themselves about the kind of government to be put into place after the invasion. Many of the Uitlanders had no interest in violent uprising. Rhodes had actually decided to call off the raid, but by that time it was too late as Jameson and his party had already crossed into the Transvaal.
Communication was lacking and plans were botched when all telegraph lines were not cut as had been planned. Consequently, the Boers received warning of the attack, and Jameson was forced to surrender on 2 January 1896 at Doornkop near Krugersdorp. The raid had been a failure.
The prisoners were handed over to their own government and the Uitlander leaders who had been part of the plot were put to trial in Johannesburg. Some of them were condemned to death, but the sentences were later reduced to large fines.
The personal qualities of stoicism expressed by Jameson after the raid encapsulated the Victorian standards at the time and its this that Kipling wanted to express in his poem ‘IF’.
The poem attempts to summarise the qualities valued by the Victorians and takes the form of a fathers advice to his son, and to quote Kipling’s own words, “IF contains a multitude of characteristics deemed essential to the ideal man. They almost all express stoicism and reserve – the classic British ‘stiff upper lip.’ In particular, a man must be humble, patient, rational, truthful, dependable, and persevering. His behaviour in response to deleterious events and cruel men is important; he must continue to have faith in himself when others doubt him, he must understand that his words might be twisted and used for evil, he must be able to deal with the highest and lowest echelons of society, and he must be able to withstand the lies and hatred emanating from others.”
In creating the appropriated video I chose a version read by the famous actor Sir Michael Caine. The connection with Caine to the poem is best described by his big break in films, Zulu.
The film tells the story of the battle of Rorkes drift (http://www.britishbattles.com/zulu-war/rorkes-drift.htm) which took place on 22nd January 1879. After the disastrous and apparently inexplicable slaughter of the 1st Battalion, the 24th Foot, Bromhead’s B Company, 2nd Battalion of the same regiment were almost defenceless against the attack of 6,000 Zulu warriors at the mission station called Rorkes Drift. The handful of soldiers armed with rifles fought off the repeated attack displaying all the characteristics Kipling describes in his poem. Caine’s memorable performance as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead alongside Stanley Baker’s Lieutenant John Chard, Royal Engineers, adds to the films realistic edge and despite the passage of time the movie remains one of the most gripping war movies ever made.
As Sir Michael Caine states in an interview celebrating the 50 years since the film was made “It is one of the first British war films to treat a native enemy with dignity. The heroism of the British is celebrated, but so is the heroism of the Zulu nation, with forces depicted as the disciplined, intelligent tacticians and soldiers they undoubtedly were.” (http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/michael-caine-thought-zulu-performance-3825906)
The next connection in my appropriation video of the poem IF was the background music.
This is a very atmospheric piece used in the recent Batman – Dark Knight film series. The DC comic character Batman faces insurmountable odds as the sole hero in the fight against a corrupt and criminal infested city. The Batman character displays all of Kipling’s Victorian values, humble, patient, rational, truthful, dependable, and persevering, leading once again to a gripping, if fictional, tale. The link with this film is strengthened further with the appearance of Sir Michael Caine, this time playing Alfred, Bruce (Batman) Wayne’s trusted English butler who also displays the same Victorian values.
The poem, the music and words of Sir Michael Caine were then blended with the film La Jetee. I chose this film to illustrate Caine’s reading of the poem as the ‘traveller’ in La Jetee again shows some of the same Victorian characteristics – humble, patient, rational, truthful, dependable, and persevering.
The fictional story tells of a devastated future world and the experiments a group of surviving scientists create attempting to send a man into the past to change the future. Their aim is to prevent the disaster that destroyed the world from ever happening. The lone traveller has to draw on all his stoicism as he battles between sanity and insanity, whilst both living in his ‘present’ future world and the past world in which he finds himself thrown into.
In the assembled appropriation video I have also carefully selected stills from La Jetee that also reflect the words of the poem in an attempt to offer visually the same Victorian values expressed in the words.