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DVD Review: All My Loving

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I’ve always been a big Cream fan, and I must have heard “We’re Going Wrong” at least a couple thousand times. But I’ve never heard it the way I did the first time I saw Tony Palmer’s magical touch on the cameras. I have never heard “We’re Going Wrong” the way I heard it when I watched Palmer’s one-of-a-number-of-masterpieces, All My Loving for the first time. I was such a huge Cream fan I once drove with two other guys over a thousand miles each way to see Cream one weekend.

Unless you’re a student of films about music, you’ll probably not recognize the name Tony Palmer. Palmer has made in excess of 100 films on subjects such as The Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Frank Zappa (200 Motels) in the rock world. In the classical world, his subjects include Igor Stravinski, Maria Callas, Margot Fonteyn, and Yehudi Menuhin. His seven-hour, 45 minute film on Richard Wagner, starring Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, and Vanessa Redgrave is considered by many to be his magnum opus.

In essence, All My Loving is the history of an era that is still being played out. With no exaggeration, no hyperbole, and no bullshit, the 1960s was a watershed era. The entire way of life in the US and in many parts of the world changed radically during the 1960s, with music going from Pat Boone and Perry Como and Liberace, to Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the Beatles, the Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd, The Family Dog, and the Fugs. You also had a sea change in the American way of life: the destruction of the nuclear family, use of recreational drugs by young people, you had the Chicago riots, draft card burnings, bra burnings, topless and bottomless dancers, the March on the Pentagon, Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington, riots in the black ghettos, Ohio National Guardsmen opening fire on student demonstrators, and you had people sentenced to life in prison for possession of a single joint. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To me, it made perfect sense to see Hendrix doing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and he and Pete Townshend splintering and burning their guitars. It certainly made more sense than life for a joint!

And it’s more surprising to me in 2009 to not see far worse being done in the name of freedom from oppression, the majority of which seems to fall under the category of “national security.”

London’s Daily Express tells what the film is about much better than I could:

With hideous, clamorous force, Tony Palmer's film about the pop world burst out of the TV screen last night – a disturbing piece of television which no parent could afford to miss. It was certainly not a film which will die, a psychedelic experience which 10 years from now will be the definitive document of its time. How often does TV really make you sit on the edge of your chair?

All My Loving is about all this and much, much more.

“We’re Going Wrong” is incredibly intense in its own right. Yet Palmer manages to arrange a marriage of visual and sonic intensities into an orgasm of emotion that is veritably tactile. “You could feel it in your toes, man!” the Medusa-haired lunatic [me] in front of you is raving.

And if Palmer had been in the room with me when he cut Jack Bruce’s divo performance, at the exact zenith of its intensity, I would have strangled him. But it was an even more intense shock than everything that had transpired until then. As if one second you’re in a car speeding down the road at 70 miles an hour, and literally one second later, the train you hit has stopped you cold. I had to reassemble my shattered self after that sudden stop.

Another scene that resonated with me was when the narrator was talking about and filming the destructiveness of The Who and Hendrix in particular, and in a hundred words or less makes it sound like it was perfectly logical at the time. “It made perfect sense, man!” [Crazy man again.]

As Palmer says in the film, these old color cameras were like elephants, it took four men to move them. So they didn’t. When he filmed Cream, he told Eric Clapton, “That’s your camera. Jack, that’s your camera, and Ginger, that’s your camera.”

All My Loving is a film about the 1960s and the music of the 1960s, and was a powerful microcosm of the trouble and strife going on around the globe in 1968, and is every bit as germane to world politics today as it was then. This film would never have happened if it wasn’t for John Lennon, according to what Palmer says early in his interview. Lennon was returning a favor. While a student at Cambridge, Palmer had shown Lennon around the fascinating town; Lennon was appreciative and gave Palmer his personal phone number in London. Three years later, Palmer called the number. Lennon went on to eventually introduce Palmer to the groups who are the “lead characters” in the film: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Pink Floyd, Cream, Donovan, Frank Zappa, and Eric Burdon are the ones mentioned in the liner notes of the DVD.

Some scenes which are engraved in the stone of my brain: the strung out smack freak nodding away in Hashbury [Haight-Ashbury]; the savagery of a cop whipping a guy with his baton, hitting him once — pow! Twice. Pow! Three times. Four times, knocking him off his feet. Five times, in less than that many seconds; and the organ fugue in both counterpoint and complement to the presumable napalming of a Vietnamese man, this flaming still-walking corpse stumbling and falling, then miraculously getting up again, rabid with the pain, chunks of burning flesh falling from his body. Then both scene and sound fade into a continually rearranging juxtaposition of film clips and still shots, all memorable, with the burning man making a couple more appearances, all with a speech by Adolf Hitler as the soundtrack, the fugue also reappearing. All of these depictions take less than a minute of film, but they could fill four-score and seven volumes.

Palmer manages to reach the musicians, managers, and others on their individual and collective levels, thereby instilling in them a feeling of obligation that they’ve got to open up and “tell it like it is” to Palmer. Pete Townshend in particular is often bombastic and sarcastic with press, not to the point of rudeness, because you can sense it’s a defensive front being projected. Palmer interviews and films Townshend on the bus during one of their famously grueling 15,000-miles-in-six-weeks traveling marathons and opens him up as if he were popping a champagne cork, the words gushing out of Townshend like the bubbly spewing from the neck of the bottle.

In a voiceover we hear the announcer: “Increasingly, the strain of such tours forces the ambitious pop musicians away from live performance … The first Beatle LP was made in a day. Their recent Sergeant Pepper song cycle took three months and 700 hours of studio time. Mozart wrote Don Giovanni in seven weeks.”

I’ve given my impression of less than ten minutes of the film, and while those ten minutes are not the best parts of the film, they are certainly among the most indelible. This is one of those few films that come along in life that is truly impossible to leave. No bathroom breaks, because even if you’re watching it at home, you don’t want to wait for even a minute to see what happens next; you refuse to stop it. One minute is entirely too long to delay one’s gratification.

Immediately following the Hitler speech comes a remarkably peaceful pastoral scene which seems to emphasize “brotherhood,” or a familial gathering, which then fades into the closing credits. All My Loving is a celluloid symphony with a peaceful ending, an appropriately calming symphony playing just audibly in the background.

Fade to black.

Extras include an extremely interesting and superb interview with Tony Palmer.

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