View Full Version : Celluloid Heroes: John Lennon and How I Won the War

11-23-2010, 05:20 PM
Celluloid Heroes: John Lennon and How I Won the War
Jocelyn Hoppa/Crawdaddy

Want to know when John Lennon started wearing those trademark round-rimmed glasses? Well, it all began with the character he played in the 1967 black comedy film How I Won the War, directed by Richard Lester. After the movie, he wore that style of spectacles for the rest of his life.

How I Won the War, an absurdist anti-war satire set in the thick of World War II, was also the first and only movie Lennon was in that wasn’t specifically a Beatles-related film, being done just after the band stopped touring. By many accounts, his impersonation of soldier Muskateer Gripweed, a witty and glib fascist thief, stole the show.

The film also features Roy Kinnear along with Lennon as ill-fated enlisted men under the inept command of Lieutenant Ernest Goodbody. Most of the plot centers around Goodbody’s flashbacks, who had lower-class beginnings and education, which make him a poor officer commanding one of the worst units in the army through a series of misadventures in North Africa and Europe.

Lester implemented a continuous use of film techniques, from vignette to straight-to-camera, docu-drama, references to the war-film genre, and also poplar war literature. The film was also tinted in several different colors throughout to show the stages of war. While the slapstick British humor and strange imagery were aimed at being both interesting and daring, at the time, many people felt it was just pretentious and weird for the sake of being weird. Lester lobbied that most anti-war films treat war in a rational way, where he tried to reduce it to the perversion of everything human he perceived that it is. Lester said of the film: “It does reflect a desperately sincere attitude towards the glorification of war by show business… One of the gross obscenities about the war is the war film itself… like a big adventure with extras being killed in the way of a Western.”

Not only that, but there was another reason why How I Won the War was disdained. While the film was set during WWII, at the time of its release, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and the public assumed that Vietnam was the conflict being mocked.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is it’s central thrust is that war is an extension of class war. In the end, Lt. Goodbody can only relate to his German upper-class captor. This and some other things in the film suggest that it’s not even money that separates the classes, it’s the collective illusion of the classes that separates them.

Leave it to John Lennon to be beyond his time. How I Won the War deserves to be reconsidered.

11-23-2010, 06:27 PM
In addition to donning British National Health glasses, Lennon had his hair cut relatively short for his acting role. The movie was filmed in Germany and then in the seaside town of Almeria, Spain--soon after The Beatles' final live appearances ended in August 1966, although the movie came out in 1967. Meanwhile, Ringo took this time to be with his family, while Paul went with girlfriend Jane Asher on a journey across Africa. George and Patti went to India. Ringo and wife Maureen soon joined John and wife Cynthia in Spain. (Per Cynthia Lennon's 2005 book John, p. 191.)

John took this time while filming to write "Strawberry Fields Forever" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9s1I1TZqJg)--which the band started to record in November 1966. Especially around Thanksgiving Day. Thus John's impromptu reference at the very end of the song to "cranberry sauce"--heard as "I buried Paul" by the Paul-Is-Dead folks years later.

Lennon also sported a moustache for the first time by late 1966.

BTW: PBS broadcast a great (new) documentary on Lennon last night.