AUGUST 2005 ISSUE
"Hitler was the first rock star."- David Bowie (1975 Playboy interview)
In this installment of Rock 'N Roll Case Study we talk about ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II, which is perhaps one of the most bizarre movies in rock 'n roll. The 1976 film by 20th Century Fox is the strangest mix of cinema and rock 'n roll, combining World War II images (newsreels and Hollywood films made at that time) with the music of the Beatles (not the Beatles original recordings, but by various artists).
Released on November 12th, 1976, the film was quickly withdrawn from theaters after just two weeks following bad reviews. A review from the New York Daily News even wrote that the film's P.G. rating had to have stood for "Positively Ghastly". The only review I remember reading at the time of its release was in a 1976 issue of Redbook magazine (of all places) - while not panning the film outright, the Redbook reviewer was obviously baffled by the film!
In January of 2005 I came across an article on the internet about the film. It piqued my curiosity and I started to search out more info on the film. It turned out that researching the film ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II was easier said than done. In the almost 30 years since its release, some of the main players in the movie had died, such as (musical director) Lou Reizner. Others were simply impossible to track down. However, thanks to the internet, I was able to track down and interview the following: Joe Adamson (researcher), Tony Palmer (researcher & editor), Russ Regan (Executive Producer), and Tony Bramwell (promotion). While their answers didn't totally answer all the questions I had regarding the film, a lot of missing gaps in the film's story were explained.
ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II combines a pastiche of World War II-themed film segments (both period films and post-war action films) with the backdrop of the music of the Beatles (NOT the original songs, but cover versions by various artists). Strange concept huh? I think Paul pointed out (maybe in ANTHOLOGY) that he was proud that the enduring thing about the Beatles was that the majority of their songs were about LOVE. So it probably wasn't the best concept to team the music of the world's best known "love songs" pop group with war footage! However, with that said, there are a few surreal moments in the film, such as marching Nazi's & Hitler rallies set to "Magical Mystery Tour". Perhaps a little subtle humor? "Roll up for the mystery tour" - war - get it? Neville Chamberlain is shown at the precise time that the lyrics "living is easy with eyes close" is sung from "Strawberry Fields Forever". Hitler is shown during "Fool on the Hill" and Mussolini during "Nowhere Man". Both the Nazi blitzkrieg invasions and Dunkirk are shown during "Long & Winding Road" (telling how long the war will be?). It is bizarre to see the bombing of London with "Golden Slumbers" playing and downright bizarre to see Japanese troops marching to "Come Together".
The film seems to try and present a chronological portrayal of important events of World War II as "Help" is played over scenes of Rommel in North Africa; a segment from Casablanca where Bogie says, "I bet they're asleep all over America…" (talking about initial American isolationism?); TORA TORA TORA clips mixed with "Sunk King" and "I Am the Walrus"; the WACS are mobilizing and shipping out during "She's Leaving Home"; the apathy of those at home to the Japanese "relocation" in America is played to "Let It Be"; there are cartoons showing mobilization of the U.S. to "Getting Better". "Get Back" is the soundtrack to the Nazi's marching 'backwards' (the tide of the war is changing) and even shows Hitler 'dancing' (his increasing insanity?). To me this is the cleverest bit of the film. Another effective image is that of the crew of a ship listening to Keith Moon's version of "When I'm 64" over the loud speakers! The 'theme' continues as the D-Day invasion has a backing of "A Day in the Life"; "You Never Give Me Your Money" and its line "one sweet dream" represents the Allied victory; finally, the can almost guess what will happen during "The End"…that's right, the atomic bomb!
As the credits roll, a reggae version of "Give Peace A Chance" plays over the credits -this is the one song that is not on the soundtrack. This is possibly a 'clue' to an inside message of the film. Showing the atrocities and meaningless destruction of war while subliminally applying the "love" message of the Beatles and ending with "Give Peace A Chance"? Perhaps I'm reaching, but it almost seems to make sense. That is probably also why the film got slammed mercilessly - people just couldn't see beyond the seemingly blatant "bad taste" of mixing World War II with the Beatles to see that the film is indeed a message of peace.
Ultimately, the film is almost like a '70s version of the Beatles own MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR movie - both movies leave you wondering, "What the hell is the meaning?" Ironically, I think the worst thing that happened to this film was its release by 20th Century Fox. Had it been an 'independent film', it probably would have been considered a surrealistic, dark comedy "art film".
One of the most fascinating questions about this film is just how it was initially inspired? What immediately came to my mind was David Bowie's "Hitler" statement. In a Playboy interview from 1975 he said: "Hitler was the first rock star. He staged a whole country". There's also another quote "When you think about it, Adolph Hitler was the first pop star. It certainly wasn't his politics. He was a media pop star ... Hitler was a terrible military strategist. But his overall objective was very good. He was a tremendous morale booster". But the Bowie statement, while occurring just prior to the film, was just a coincidence and nobody I interviewed said that his Hitler quote had anything to do this the film. Humorously, Tony Palmer even added, "Nice guy, David, but sometimes full of shit."
The real origin for the movie is actually stated on the original soundtrack. The booklet that accompanies the vinyl album box states that it was, "Based on a dream by Russ Regan." In our interview, Regan confirmed this story, explaining, "The movie is self-explanatory. The music that was used for the different segments explains what the dream was. For example, the Japanese planes taking off for Pearl Harbor and the Bee Gees singing 'Here Comes the Sun.' The rest is all basically self-explanatory. Seeing that I was a kid during World War II and I saw all these newsreels and stuff, you know, it seemed like the music sort of fit a lot of the segments of that war, so that's why I did it. And I dreamt it, actually wrote it all down. I woke up in the middle of the night, wrote these different things down, and we made a sort of a documentary movie about World War II with the Beatles' music, so that's what it is, my friend."
ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II seemed to be plagued by problems from the very beginning, including two different cuts of the film and a high turnover rate among those involved. Joe Adamson was hired to plow "through all of Fox's WWII films looking for relevant footage." Adamson also recalled that, "the first cut of the film was prepared in London by Tony Palmer, with me and researcher Susan Winslow". Palmer described his role at the beginning as "editor, and effectively the director." Although some of Palmer's cut did make it to the final film, Russ Regan describes the first cut as "very different!" Evidently, both Palmer and Adamson were dismissed after this first cut, and Susan Winslow was promoted to director, while Tony Palmer received "Production & Research Consultant" credits.
There was also the problem of the various arguments about the concept of the film. At one point Reizner told Adamson that, "the initial concept of the film may have been idiotic, but it was in fact what Fox had bought". Adamson adds, "At one time the National Lampoon people were going to be involved, allowing me to meet Christopher Guest and Bill Murray long before they were famous. We ran footage for them and they had some pretty funny ideas, but nothing came of this." While the final film had a few segments of animation, I had read on several websites that Terry Gilliam had rejected the idea of making a series of animations for the film. But, in fact, Regan states "Terry Gilliam was never asked."
In researching the film, one of the biggest surprises was that John Lennon himself was not only aware of the film, but might have had some input in its making. Sure, he was involved directly since Elton John's version of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" was included in the film. Lennon had played guitar on Elton John's version of the song, which reached #1 in January of 1975.
Tony Palmer remembers that he "discussed most of the sequences with him at length" and that "Lennon got involved because he was a friend." Unfortunately, Palmer didn't elaborate on Lennon's influence on the film. But, Tony Bramwell collaborates Palmer's story, adding that Palmer "dropped it off to see what he [Lennon] could do." With Lennon's sense of humor, it is not a total surprise that he "liked the movie" as Russ Regan remembered.
So, the film not only had an actual Beatle performing on the soundtrack (albeit a guest spot on the Elton John single), but also might have had some input in the actual sequencing. And then there is the inclusion of the Hot Chocolate Band's "Give Peace a Chance" during the closing credits. We'll explore Lennon's support for this song later a little later in this article.
Movie footage used for ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II were edited from:
While the movie quickly disappeared following bad reviews, the soundtrack seemed to be everywhere in the late '70s and I remember seeing it constantly in record store cut-out bins (where I got my copy). Released on November 5th 1976, the soundtrack rose to a respectable 23 on the U.K. album charts, with a total of 7 weeks on the charts.
Lou Reizer was the musical director for the film and there is surprisingly little information about him on the internet. Lou Reizner (August 11, 1938-June26, 1977) worked for Mercury Records in the late '60s and early '70s. He was instrumental in both the discovery and/or signing of David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Van der Graaf Generator, and the pre-Queen bands Earth and Smile. His production credits include the first two Rod Stewart albums. At one point he even released a record of his own, but it quickly faded. In 1971, Reizner's project of "Tommy-As Performed by The London Symphony Orchestra" became a top seller. The album featured an all-star cast, including Rod Stewart's version of "Pinball Wizard". The soundtrack for ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II was one of Reizner's last projects as he died of cancer in 1977, at age 43.
Reizner was probably instrumental in getting Rod Stewart on board as a participating artist (since he had produced some of Rod's early albums). Also curious was the fact that the Bee Gees actually recorded three more songs for the film ("Lovely Rita", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "She's Leaving Home" being replaced by other versions - It would be interesting to hear these versions as I'm sure they are probably infinitely superior to their Beatles covers on the SGT. PEPPER movie in 1978!) In regards to the soundtrack for the film, supposedly Regan had wanted to use original Beatle recordings. But perhaps the recent mega-success of the TOMMY film and soundtrack changed Regan's mind. The ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II soundtrack did contain two artists that were also on the TOMMY soundtrack: Elton John and Tina Turner. The inclusion of Elton's "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" is a little peculiar, since the track was not new - having been a number one hit the year before (January, 1975). Perhaps, this was Lennon's influence in the film?
But how much did TOMMY influence the project? In 1975, the film version of The Who's TOMMY was a big success, not only as a film, but the soundtrack as well. Since the soundtrack for ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II seems to follow the TOMMY "all star" formula (with Elton John and Tina Turner from that project), I was curious as to how much influence the success of TOMMY had on the film. There is also the question of which came first: the soundtrack or the film? Joe Adamson recalls "the film itself as an ancillary project to help promote the LP". And, Tony Palmer told Joe Adamson "it was a follow-up to the TOMMY success", but Russ Regan insists, "TOMMY had nothing to do with it".
I also wondered who was in charge of getting the artists to sing for the project? Tony Bramwell remembers Lou Reizner being in charge of getting the various artists involved, while Tony Palmer says Sandy Leiberson. Russ Regan states that he and Lou Reizner picked the songs. Unfortunately, with the death of Lou Reizner, we may never know all the musical answers to this film as well as the location of the master tapes.
Although the soundtrack was far more successful than the film itself, it is also doubtful that it will make an appearance as an official CD. Tony Bramwell remembers that the quality of the tapes might be in question, as "they hadn't been kept properly". Bramwell also recalls giving the original (master?) tapes to Lou Reizner's widow in 1977 when Lou Reizner died.
Here is an almost complete list of artists used for the soundtrack of this film (and on the released record soundtrack). The one song not on the soundtrack, but in the film, is "Give Peace a Chance" by Hot Chocolate.
THE MYSTERY SONG?
After watching the film, one of the mysteries was the identity of the artist that performed the last song on the film. A cover of "Give Peace a Chance" ends the film as the credits are rolling, but the song itself is not listed in the credits and the song didn't make it to the soundtrack. I searched the internet for reggae cover versions of the song, finding that Toots & The Maytals had done a version of "Give Peace A Chance" on their MONKEY MAN album in 1970. However, upon hearing their version, it was obviously not the same artist in the film. Finally, this mystery was solved during an interview with Tony Bramwell in which he informed me that the mystery band was none other than Hot Chocolate! Back in 1969, the Hot Chocolate Band (as they were originally called) sent Apple records a reggae version of "Give Peace A Chance". John Lennon loved it and the song saw release as a 45rpm on Apple Records on October 10, 1969 (Apple 18 - "Give Peace A Chance"/ "Living Without Tomorrow"). The band shorted their name to 'Hot Chocolate' and is best known by their 1975 hit "You Sexy Thing".
But why was this song included in the film, but not the soundtrack? Russ Regan said that the song didn't appear on the soundtrack because it was an "afterthought". Did Lennon influence in inclusion of this song? Since he was instrumental in getting the song released on Apple Records back in 1969, maybe this was a Lennon suggestion given to Tony Palmer when they discussed the film.
While the film never made it to video, there have been occasional showings over the years at various film festivals and even on American cable TV. And at this point it is very unlikely that we will see an official release. However, you CAN still get the film (on DVD no less) like I did from Shocking Videos
Also check out:
THE BOOTLEG FILES: "ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II" by Phil Hall