Tuesday, June 30, 2009

i saw a film today, oh boy, the english army had just won the war

"Can I rub your ball, sir? It gives me great pleasure." Hmm... alrighty then, John. During the fall of 1966 before the Beatles started the Sgt. Pepper recording sessions, John Lennon flew to Spain to take part in director Richard Lester's newest film, How I Won the War. Lester, who had directed the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night and Help!, recruited John for this anti-war satire aimed at criticizing Vietnam and war itself. Lennon was cast as the kleptomaniac fascist Private Gripweed, a soldier under command of the clueless Lieutenant Goodbody (Michael Crawford, also a frequent collaborator of Lester in The Knack...and How to Get it, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) during WWII. The task for the inexperienced troop is simple -- build a cricket pitch behind enemy lines in North Africa for the future troops arriving there. Its Lester's take on the film that is a little less so. In Lester's world, after one of the characters is killed, they never really die -- they still talk and most all of them still follow the other soldiers on their mission, the only difference is that they become a different color (pink, green, orange, blue...), which admittedly makes certain characters' deaths easier to take. There are other oddities in the film -- a cricket game with Hitler (where John's 'can I rub your ball' line comes in -- he's talking about a cricket ball, you dirty people!), a soldier who tries the entire film to seem mad and is finally dubbed insane after quoting Churchill, and tons of Lester's trademark absurd Monty Python-esque humor.
For any Lester film that I have seen -- and even most anti-war films that I've seen -- this film is comparably darker, angrier, and more critical than the others. In this film, Lester stresses the point that no good can come from war as it destroys everyone and everything involved. While Goodbody's troop seems to try to kill him off the entire film, Goodbody inadvertently causes most his troop to gradually die off. Lester's criticism of war is biting and very haunting. After Gripweed dies, he looks directly into the camera and says eerily prophetically, "I knew this would happen. You knew it would happen, didn't you?" After I saw that scene, I cried for like an hour.
Even still, this point in Lennon's life is where I crush on him the most. He cut his hair in the Army-regulated cut and started wearing his soon-to-be-trademark granny glasses for the first time. And really who can resist seeing Lennon in army fatigues and a wife beater? I love seeing photos from the set because even though the film is darkly depressing, everyone seemed to be so happy behind the scenes.