You may not hear the term mash-up very often these days, but the concept itself isn’t exactly the early-two-thousands fad that it might imply. It seems that, as soon as technology made it possible for enthusiasts to combine ostensibly unrelated pieces of media — the more incongruous, the better — they started doing so: take the synchronization of The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, known as The Dark Side of the Rainbow. But even back in the seventies, the art of the proto-mash-up wasn’t practiced only by rogue projectionists in altered states of mind, as evidenced by the 1976 20th Century Fox Release All This and World War II, which assembled real and dramatized footage of that epoch-making geopolitical conflict with Beatles covers.
Upon its release, All This and World War II “was received so harshly it was pulled from theaters after two weeks and never spoken of again,” as Keith Phipps writes at The Reveal.
Those who actually seek it out and watch it today will find that it gets off to an even less auspicious start than they might imagine: “A clip of Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) skeptically receiving the news of Neville Chamberlain’s ‘peace in our time’ declaration in the 1939 film City in Darkness gives way to a cover of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ by ’70s soft-rock giants Ambrosia. Accompanying the song: footage of swastika banners, German soldiers marching in formation, and a climactic appearance from a smiling Adolf Hitler, by implication the organizer of the ‘mystery tour’ that was World War II.”
The other recording artists of the seventies enlisted to supply new versions of well-known Beatles numbers include the Bee Gees, Elton John, the Who’s Keith Moon, and Peter Gabriel, names that assured the soundtrack album (which you can hear on this Youtube playlist) a much greater success than the film itself, with its fever-dream mixture of newsreels Axis and Allied with 20th Century Fox war-picture clips.
As for what everyone involved was thinking in the first place, Phipps quotes an explanation that soundtrack producer Lou Reizner once provided to UPI: “It would have been easy to take the music of the era and dub it to match the action on screen. But we’d have lost the young audience. We want all age groups to see this picture because we think it makes a statement about the absurdity of war. It is the definitive anti-war film” — or, as Phipps puts it, the definitive “cult film in search of cult.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.