In the 1960s and 1970s, movie studios began to produce some truly bizarre films that broke away from the conventions of filmmaking. Waves of art films (experimental films) saw their release to either cable networks or to theatres, and many of them so bizarre that they completely fell out of the public’s consciousness. Nowadays, most folks will cite the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine (1968) as one of these such films. A wonderful combination of the music by the legendary rock group set to a truly obscure plot and animated style. However, there is a film that also takes the music from the Beatles and tries to paint a story with it, a film so bizarre and outrageous that it bombed from the box office and remains largely unknown by anyone outside of the rock n’ roll community or an avid b-list movie watcher: All This and World War II (1976).
Originally conceived by legendary record executive Russ Regan in a dream, All This and World War II took the idea of telling the story of World War II through the Beatles’s music. Set to various clips from golden era films and newsreels, All This and World War II was poised to be a ‘musical documentary’ covering the main events of the European and Pacific theatre from start to finish. With the only dialog coming from movie clips, and visual indicators of time/era/location from newsreels, the entire project makes for a very loosely driven narrative of the war. Nearly impossible to follow for the uninitiated of World War II, the film’s only redeeming quality had to come from a strong and powerful soundtrack. Still, despite the pure outlandishness of the film from concept, design, and editing, the film was given a full theatrical release by 20th Century Fox. With a $1.2 million dollar budget and a total bomb at the box office, the film was pulled from theatrical release after only two weeks.
Since then the film has largely remained in obscurity, not many people have really heard about it or remember it, those who do mainly recall the film from the soundtrack which made it on the charts and was quite popular in the late 70s. Drawing from the talents of many famous musicians such as Elton John, Keith Moon, the Bee Gees, Tina Turner, Peter Gabriel, and many more, the film used covers of Beatles songs rather than securing the rights for the original recordings themselves. Perhaps this is what gives the film its interesting flair, having such tracks as “Come Together” covered by Tina Turner set to a sequence of Americans rallying for the war effort or the Bee Gee’s rendition of “Sun King” providing the background tune to Japanese kamikaze pilots flying to Pearl Harbor.
Since its pull from theatrical release, it was rumored to have been destroyed by Fox, being remembered as an embarrassing experiment that failed miserably. However, the film did make it to several film festivals in very selective showings, and one more recent showing in 2007 at midnight in Los Angeles. While it never was released to the public the only available surviving copies derive from one single bootleg recording from a late night cable TV broadcast. Outside of people’s hands, and outside of the public’s consciousness, the film was regarded as one of the crown jewels of missing media, until the bootleg resurfaced and copies were made and digitized. Still, only a select few know about the film, and probably fewer have come to appreciate the outlandish concept behind it. If you can find a copy of it, it is probably one of the best little films to put on in the background as people watch, scratch their heads, and wonder what this whole thing is all about.
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