Saturday, June 23, 2007

The U.S. vs John Lennon

The U.S. vs John Lennon (David Leaf & John Scheinfeld, 2006)
John Lennon was a very influential figure in my youth. I grew up in a house of Beatles fans, and as a teenager I strongly identified with the rebelliousness and social conscience that Lennon embodied post-Beatles. I vividly remember Happy Xmas War Is Over playing repeatedly on 3XY, Melbourne's undisputed top pop/rock radio station at that time (I believe this would have been late 1971, and I was 11). It had an impact on me then. Later, I saw Billy Jack three times and The Trial of Billy Jack five times at the cinema! The latter was clearly a critique of the Vietnam war and featured a moving rendition of Give Peace a Chance, though I did not know for some years that this was a Lennon song.

While in Manhattan in 2003/04, I visited the Imagine tribute at the Strawberry Fields Memorial to Lennon in Central Park. It's across the road from the famous and beautiful gothic Dakota apartment building where he lived. It was also where he was killed in 1980 aged 40. Seeing the tribute was moving; Imagine was hugely influential for me.

The U.S. vs John Lennon is a timely film because it's really a critique of current US policy in relation to Iraq, the 'War on Terror' and 'homeland security' in general. It is a sort of partial biography of Lennon, in relation to his controversial involvement in the peace movement. This put him at odds with the Nixon administration, who then attempted to improperly have him deported.

It is both entertaining and pertinent, and sheds light on a very colourful 20th century personality. The terms of reference, so to speak, are fairly narrow, and that's a strength rather than a criticism. Lennon and Yoko Ono are both depicted at length, but the nature and history of their relationship are covered only cursorily while and their battle with heroin doesn't rate a mention. I was OK with that, because that wasn't the subject of the film.

The most interesting facet of the film for me was the highlighting of the techniques and rhetoric of the clearly dishonest, deceptive and criminal Nixon administration, and how the rhetoric of the late 60's and early 70's was almost identical to that we hear coming from the mouths of the current administration (and our own beloved leader, John Howard), post 9-11. Especially pernicious, is the invokation of God or Jesus to justify obscene activities (death and destruction) which are clearly Godless.

The film makes good use of the music and lyrics of John Lennon, as well as use of graphics to keep the film visually interesting, though I don't require this kind of embellishment to enjoy a good documentary. It is not particularly heavy-weight or insightful, but is coherent and makes a strong case for the the position it takes, which is that John Lennon was improperly targeted by the Nixon administration because of his strong stand against the Vietnam war. The various interviews with Lennon were the most insightful and entertaining part of the film (he had a terrific, sharp sense of humour). Lennon was clearly a very intelligent and charismatic man who could strongly and coherently argue a case for peace. The film's depiction of his dedication and sincerity is very moving. A person like Lennon in the public eye is sadly lacking today.

Official website / IMDB


Marina said...

Great review. I saw this late last year and I was impressed by how much the film speaks to the current situation of the world.

marty said...

I recently saw an indie feature film called The Killing of John Lennon. It focuses on the guy that killed Lennon, Mark Chapman, so the film is all from his demented perspective. I have to say the film was way too long and I really didn't get anything out of it apart from the fact that the guy is a looney tune! Most of the film dragged and was very repetitive and boring. Not recommended.

Paul Martin said...

Marty, the killing of Lennon is almost just a passing comment, or rather a final comment at the end of the film. I was a little interested to know more about that and checked out Wikipedia. It mentions the material circumstances of the killing, but not the motivations. While John Lennon was no saint, it does seem sometimes that the good guys go first while the scoundrels live long lives.