Dir. Susan Winslow, 1976
Over the break, my sister gave me one of her old turntables that she was no longer using. As a result, I guess I’m now collecting vinyl (though it’s been something of a family hobby for years). On Saturday, I stopped by an antique market on Route 66 here in Tulsa, and one of my finds was the soundtrack to All This And World War 2.
Now, there are bad movies…and then there’s All This And World War 2. A movie so bizarre that if you managed to see it during its 2 week run in 1976, you might have later convinced yourself that it was just a dream or the result of a bad trip.
The record came with a nice little booklet featuring juxtapositions that might give you some idea about how insane this whole project was:
…And here’s the film’s trailer:
I love weird moves, and it’s been something of a personal quest to find and watch the weirdest movies I can find. There may be films that are formally more bizarre or less coherent. But All This and World War 2 might be the craziest project, and is surely the strangest American film ever released to theaters by a major studio.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the pitch meeting when somebody decided to make a film made up of newsreel footage and classic film clips compiled to tell the story of WW2–set to (very late 70’s) covers of Beatles songs (how has there not been a documentary about this yet?). This means that somewhere, some studio executive thought it was a good idea to greenlight a film that shows recut footage of Tora! Tora! Tora! and the bombing of Pearl Harbor along to Leo Sayer covering “I Am the Walrus,”
The film alternates between cringe inducing kitsch and effective avant-garde experience, kind of similar to looking at a piece of outsider art; there can be something liberating about an expression that has no concept of bad taste. On some level there seems to be an awkward critique of some kind; the film focuses on movie stars’ involvement in the war effort and ephemeral commercial bits. And then there’s the question of “why the Beatles?” I still haven’t figured that out. Sure, the Beatles’ childhoods were shaped by the shadow of the war, but other artists incorporated it more directly into their work (like Pink Floyd). Maybe there’s some sentiment, akin to David Bowie’s controversial claim that Hitler was the first rock star? Were Beatles songs really cheap in the late 70s? ATAWW2, the film version of Sgt. Pepper’s (the Bee Gees show up here too), even “Stars on 45” suggest that there was a market for Beatles covers (or if not a market, at least the expectation of a market) in the late 70s.
On a personal level, the film was actually, and until now secretly, an influence on my own short film, Tonto Plays Himself. After seeing ATAWW2 (in fragments) I became interested in the idea of making a film out of clips from other films with the idea of taking Western footage and modifying them to create a different meaning. This was particularly inspired by the “Get Back” sequence. In the end, I only did that in a few scenes in my film, but that was the major concept for an early version of it.
While the soundtrack to ATAWW2 was mildly successful, the film was not. Critics were reportedly horrified (it was screened out of competition at Cannes!!) and after a two week run 20th Century Fox did all it could to hide its film away. About 10 years ago, I found a bootleg copy with much of the non-musical parts missing, but a really excellent bootleg copy is now available on Youtube so you can view this magical (tragical?) history tour for yourself in its entirety.