All This and World War II (1976)

reviewed by
Shane Burridge

All This and World War II (1976) 88m

It's the kind of film idea that you'd think would get talked about but never actually made: a précis of World War II edited from archival footage to the tune of Beatles songs. And not even the Beatles' own versions. ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II was out of theatres so fast it was barely in them, perhaps indicating that studio execs realize exactly what it is they have on their hands only when they see it plastered in front of them on a big screen. This film was seen by very few when it was released (amazingly, it appeared out of competition at Cannes in 1977) and never even made it to VHS, let alone laserdisc or DVD. You may have memories of television showings (as I first saw it) or be lucky enough to catch a 16mm print (as I saw it a second time). It's certainly a candidate for the 'what-were-they-thinking' award of 1976, but not deserving of its disappearance into obscurity.

ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II was destined to bomb (no pun intended) upon its release. Two words: too soon. By making it only six years after the Beatles had split up, the music-goers (as opposed to movie-goers) that made up its potential audience were either Beatles fans vehemently opposed to contemporary artists daring to 'improve' the original material, or non-Beatle fans less interested in the past than the new rock and pop of the 70s. Only now, decades later, does ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II fare better. Its nostalgia level is twofold, working both with images of the War (the 40s) and the music of the Beatles (the 60s). The twenty-year gap separating these two periods of history has shrunk now that it is viewed from the distance of the 21st century, diluting the old/new anachronism that probably caused derision from audiences of the time. But that's not to say that the same concept would work if attempted now because the 1976 film itself is nostalgia, a footnote among other cinematic cacophony of the period. In other words, WORLD WAR II had to be made in the 70s, fail utterly, and be revived again 30 years later before it could be enjoyed.

As the film itself is made up of archival footage, it's only the music that bears the brunt of the criticism. The selection of artists is interesting to say the least, and obviously designed to cash in on who was hot at the time (The Brothers Johnson doing 'Help'? Is that what we won the war for?), the real rock heavyweights making way for the likes of Helen Reddy and Leo Sayer. The orchestrations by both the London Symphony and London Philharmonic are florid and energetic, and the selection of songs bizarre but sometimes quirkily metaphoric (the outbreak of war is the 'Magical Mystery Tour'; militaristic Japan becomes the 'Sun King'). It's also the more PG-rated side of the war, so while we gets lots of explosions, tanks, and planes, we're spared the body count on the front lines and the horror of the concentration camps. Does it trivialise the war by approaching it in such a colourful manner? It hardly seems the case nowadays, when WWII images have become a staple of pop culture collage (Hitler becomes 'The Fool on the Hill' and Mussolini is 'Nowhere Man', but at least there's no footage of U-boats to the strains of 'Yellow Submarine'). Some of the found footage effect is reminiscent of the synchronicity experiments film fans have liked to try at home (Pink Floyd and THE WIZARD OF OZ being the most well-known) and moments in the film seem to creepily synch up almost incidentally, even though we know they have been purposely edited in. My only objection would be seeing uncredited scenes from films like TORA! TORA! TORA! and THE LONGEST DAY mixed in with the historical footage. Still, the overall effect, at least on the big screen, is like seeing the world's biggest school project unfolding before your eyes. If you've ever had to cut and paste film yourself, you may feel like applauding – as indeed was the reaction of the last audience I saw it with.
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