Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Richard Lester's "How I Won the War" could have been titled "How I Made an Anti-War Film" and the irony would have been the same. Lester has no more made an anti-war film, than has Goodbody, his hero, won the war.
It is hard to get down to this basic fact, however, because the movie is surrounded by a clever promotional campaign. By now we have seen John Lennon's bloody picture on the cover of Ramparts, and read the advertisements in which critics are pounded over the head with each other's reviews, and we know this a film the old fogeys and fascist baby-eaters will hate and the young, pure, enlightened liberals will find Truth in.
This process has been speeded along because of Lennon's personal stature. He is a Beatle, of course, and therefore one of the most famous people in the world. But more than that, he is the hero of a large number of young people in England and America.
Simply by appearing in this film, Lennon has cloaked it in his personal immunity. We know Lennon isn't phony. Therefore, the movie can't be phony, right? Wrong. Although Lester is a great comedy director, he has failed miserably in "How I Won the War." What is worse, he has failed by doing too little, rather than by trying too much. This is not a brave or outspoken film. It has a grab-bag full of technical tricks in it, including the juggling of color, conversations between people who are not in the same place and time, remarks addressed directly to the camera and so on. But in ideas and approach, "How I Won the War" does not go as far, dare as much, or succeed as well as "Dr. Strangelove" did four years ago.