The U.S. vs John Lennon Movie Reviews
John Lennon documentary a hit at Venice festival - by Denis Barnett
Lennon's genius as an artist/activist shines through in "The US Vs John Lennon", by documentary makers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, which was warmly applauded at its first screening in Venice.
The 99-minute film includes never-before-seen footage of Lennon and Yoko Ono and traces the artist's transformation from pop star to anti-war activist. And it details the ways in which the tarnished administration of President Richard Nixon tried to silence him.
Perhaps the film's biggest achievement, in garnering footage of anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s and '70s, is to place Lennon's words and activism in the context of the time.
Leaf insisted the movie was not made with Iraq specifically in mind, but said Thursday: "There's no way to watch this film without hearing echoes of the past with what is going on in the world today."
The film has obvious resonances with the current era and the war in Iraq. By its championing of Lennon's poetic pacifism and political activism, the film-makers silently point up the lack of such a charismatic figure around which the world could gather now.
"The older people are asking 'Where is our John Lennon? Where is he now when we need him?'" says Leaf. "I answer them by saying 'He's in the movie. He would say to us 'It is up to us to bring peace'."
The current US president is mentioned only once in the film, but the remark by US writer/historian Gore Vidal drew applause from the audience.
"The thing about John Lennon is that he represented life, and that is a good thing. Richard Nixon, and George Bush, represent death, and that is a bad thing."
Vidal is one of more than 30 intellectuals, activists and journalists, including Carl Bernstein, Noam Chomsky, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, Walter Cronkite, Tariq Ali featured in the film. Representatives of the Nixon administration who tried to silence Lennon, G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean, also feature.
That, and a soundtrack featuring Lennon's anti-war anthems like "War is Over, If You Want It," "Revolution" and "Imagine" make the film compelling.
The majority of the film's songs, 37 of the 40, come from his post-Beatles career and serve to advance the narrative and to offer commentary.
"We literally searched the world for every last bit of film of him. We wanted to make a movie that had no narrator, we wanted John to tell his own story. You have him telling you the story every step of the way," said Leaf.
The documentary features Nixon telling the nation that US troops would be pulled out of Vietnam as local South Vietnamese allies gradually grew stronger, but refusing to give a date.
"One cannot help but appreciate that we've heard that script before," Leaf told a press conference in Venice where the film is being screened in the "Horizons" section.
There are obvious parallels too with the present day, "illegal wiretaps, constitutional rights being trampled and a war that isn't being fought for the reasons the president (Bush) said," Leaf added.
Although Leaf and Scheinfeld -- makers of biodocumentaries on Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope -- have been kicking around the idea for years, they could not find a backer for the film.
"It took the events of a post 9/11 America to give people the idea that this was a story that had a resonance now."
"We should remember that John and Yoko didn't really have to do what they did. They were already the most famous couple in the world.
"We live in an age where celebrity and media are omnipresent but only in the presence of 'selling something'. What John and Yoko did was sell peace."
John Lennon was shot and killed outside his home in New York on December 8, 1980.
this article copyright 2006 Denis Barnett
Baltimore Sun Review by Michael Sragow
The U.S. vs. John Lennon details the tumult of American society and the changes in Beatle John Lennon from 1966 to 1976, when he roamed beyond his current and then former bandmates and settled in New York City with his second wife, performance artist Yoko Ono.
As Lennon and Ono channeled their artistic energies into social protest, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI began monitoring them. At the behest of the Nixon administration and conservatives like Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the government served them deportation orders in 1972, on the grounds that four years before Lennon had pleaded guilty to a British drug charge of possessing marijuana.
The filmmakers don't need to underline the parallels between the efforts of the Nixon White House and the Bush White House to treat criticism as treason, or the tendency of Americans then and now to react with an odd mixture of disdain and panic whenever celebrities speak their minds.
Lennon's fight to stay in the United States gives the movie a spine - and co-directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld put flesh on every inch of it.
Their view of their subject is at once kaleidoscopic and clearheaded. Leaf and Scheinfeld have thought and felt their way inside the hearts, souls, minds and eyes of two artists, Lennon and Ono.
These directors have done so from the outside in as well as the inside out. You could do an engaging Bizarro version of the celebrity-laden cover art on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with the witnesses they've assembled for the movie: Carl Bernstein, Noam Chomsky, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, Angela Davis, John Dean, Ron Kovic, G. Gordon Liddy, George McGovern, Bobby Seale, Tommy Smothers, and Gore Vidal. As Lennon would say, "Imagine all the people."
Some of the film's surprises are prods to the memory. You may know how much of a political impact the Smothers Brothers' TV show had in the '60s. You may not recall that Tommy Smothers, the comically stuttering sibling, attended one of Lennon and Ono's bed-ins for peace and sang in the background of "Give Peace a Chance."
Other surprises are jolts to the solar plexus, such as cold-blooded Nixon operative Liddy saying he'd light his cigar with a peace marcher's protest candle. Still others are astoundingly moving, like McGovern singing a snatch of "Give Peace a Chance."
There are unexpected heroes like Lennon's immigration attorney, Leon Wildes, the kind of savvy professional any person would fight to have on his or her side.
What's most important is that by mixing contemporary interviews with archival footage and using dozens of his songs on the soundtrack, including remixed masters of his songs without the vocals, the filmmakers insinuate Lennon's sensibility into the film even when he's not on-screen.
This film illuminates, with a floodlight, what it means for a sensitive, volatile artist like Lennon to interact with a turbulent political environment. Lennon said he became anti-violent while struggling to contain his own violence. Every step he takes as a public artist is also harrowingly personal.
Leaf and Scheinfeld craft their film to appeal to Lennon aficionados and novices alike. The filmmakers establish the us-against-them attitude the U.S. government took toward Lennon and Ono after they appeared at a rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., for John Sinclair, who'd been sentenced to 10 years for possessing two marijuana cigarettes.
Then the film seems to backtrack into more familiar territory, such as the controversy roused when the ever-forthright and plain-speaking Lennon told London's Evening Standard, "[The Beatles are] more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
The directors make their moves with deceptive intimacy and economy. The songbook on the soundtrack fills out the Lennon biography. The lyrics open up everything: his shattered childhood (his aunt raised him, his parents split, his mom died in a road accident outside his aunt's home), his restlessness as a young married Beatle trapped in a celebrity cocoon, his later discovery of a soul-mate in avant-garde artist Yoko Ono.
By the end, you know in your bones the kind of creative spark and solace an abstract, way-out conceptualist like Ono gave to a bundle of instinct and intelligence like Lennon. The two of them practiced "Bag-ism" long before the Unknown Comic put a paper bag over his head - and Lennon and Ono entered bags entirely, and did it as a political, artistic and existential provocation.
Ono's fearlessness and faith in art released all of Lennon's eloquence and candor, whether he was sloganizing for peace or purging his pain and questing for redemption in songs like "Mother" and "Beautiful Boy." Even those of us put off at the time by events like the bed-ins (the couple granting interviews about peace without leaving a hotel bed for days at a time) can now see them as canny strokes of politics-as-publicity.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon offers the rare depiction of a rock star as a rounded adult - an unruly man and artist striving to become mature without losing his bite and effervescence. It will seal new Lennon moments into even the most fervent Beatle-followers' heads. My favorite comes when Lennon, asked to comment on his persecutors, responds, "Time wounds all heels." This movie is both sad and inspiring. It offers proof that Lennon's wit and art are everlasting. The creator of the song "Instant Karma!" would have loved the idea that so much good karma has gone into the making of a documentary about a bleak yet heroic 10 years of his life.
this article copyright 2006 The Baltimore Sun ~ Michael Sragow
Rolling Stone Review by Peter Travers
Back in the 1970s, Richard Nixon sicced J. Edgar Hoover's FBI on Beatle John Lennon, who was singing about peace, preaching against the Vietnam War and getting all kinds of people to listen. He was followed, monitored and threatened with deportation. This documentary from David Leaf and John Scheinfeld doesn't pretend to be all-inclusive. Its laser focus is on the arrogant persecution of Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, and their insistence on fighting back. The film is loaded with testimony and talking heads. But it's Lennon, in remarkable footage released by Ono, who makes a case that seems aimed right at Bushworld. Lennon's spirit, like his music, shines through this movie like a beacon. Powerful stuff.
This review Copyright 2006 Rolling Stone magazine
Review by Emanuel Levy
David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's "The U.S. Vs. John Lennon," a celebratory but also revelatory documentary, traces Lennon's metamorphosis from lovable "Moptop" Beatle to anti-war activist to inspirational icon as they reveal the true story of how and why the U.S. government tried to silence him.
"U.S. Vs. Lennon" premiers at three major festivals, Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, before opening theatrically via Lionsgate September 15. The film also will run on VH1, which helped finance the production, as part of its rock documentary series.
The docu could not have been made without Yoko Ono's cooperation and willingness to disclose invaluable footage never used before (See below). But it also presents a problem: The film celebrates Lennon without much criticism or negative portrayal on any level. Not the last word about Lennon, his music, or political activism, "The U.S. Vs. John Lennon," is a step in the right direction, a movie that in its narrow focus is quite suitable for our politically-charged times.
Clearly, though the film is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the directors want the audience to draw parallels between the Nixon and the Bush administration in terms of conspiracy, manipulation, and what is now known as the culture of fear. Whether the audience will make this leap remains to be seen, though what's certain is that the docu will be embraced by the Beatles' fans since it contains wall-to-wall music of Lennon's best songs, a side benefit that's not to be underestimated when commercial appeal is concerned.
According to this intelligent if also slightly biased chronicle, Lennon used his fame and his fortune to protest the Vietnam War and advocate for world peace. Primarily focusing on the decade from 1966-1976, "U.S. Vs. Lennon" places the celeb's activism - and the socio-political upheaval it represented - in the context of its time.
As was documented elsewhere, that decade was one of the most fractious and tumultuous periods of American history, dominated by the Vietnam War; the rise of the antiwar movement, the civil rights, New Left and other political movements challenging the status quo; the Nixon presidency; revelations of government deception, surveillance and harassment; and last but not least the Watergate scandal. (The years of 1966-1976 also represent the last golden age in American cinema).
The film features a large and diverse array of the era's notable figures, men and women who bear immediate and authoritative witness to specific events as well as to the prevailing climate. Among them: African-American political activists Angela Davis and Bobby Seale; journalists Carl Bernstein and Walter Cronkite; Nixon Administration officials G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean; Vietnam veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic; the eminent American historian/novelist Gore Vidal; former New York Governor Mario Cuomo; and three-term Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern.
But, ultimately, it's Lennon himself who is the documentary's preeminent voice and galvanizing presence. With Lennon's own music providing subtly incisive narration, the film captures a public and private Lennon that many viewers may not know, as a principled yet funny and extraordinarily charismatic man who refused to be silent in the face of injustice.
As noted, Yoko Ono, Lennon's wife, creative collaborator and partner in their campaign for peace, has given the filmmakers unprecedented access to the Lennon-Ono archives, enabling them to draw upon never-before seen or heard audiovisual materials in telling their story.
In a series of in-depth interviews, Ono shares her personal memories, evoking the realities of the couple's daily lives; their hopes and happiness; and their long ordeal at the hands of the U.S. government.
Scrupulously researched and vividly illustrated, "U.S. Vs. Lennon" illuminates a little-known chapter of modern history, when a president and his administration used the machinery of government to wage a covert war against the world's most popular musician. Exploring an era roiled by many of the same issues confronting us today, the docu aims to deliver a tale that speaks powerfully to our own unsettled times.
The prologue establishes the docu's setting, after which Leaf and Scheinfeld go briefly to Lennon's childhood, his association with the Beatles, the group's controversial visit in America and their musical-political reaction to the divisive Vienam War - not just with "Give Peace a Chance," But also "All You Need Is Love."
An idealist calling for world peace, Lennon was an artist whose use of direct language made him an ideal leader among the anti-war activists. As a song and a slogan, "All we are saying/Is give peace a chance," was clear, direct, and to the point; in fact it was so effective as a combo of music and politics that it threatened the Nixon administration, resulting in wire-tapping, surveillance, and even a deportation order.
"He was a high-profile figure, so his activities were monitored," says G. Gordon Liddy, a chilling reminder of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, though you may be surprised to find out whose side of the political fence Liddy represents.
Most of the witnesses played in one way or another roles in Lennon's life, from spokesman Elliot Mintz to Black Panther Bobby Seale to musicians, lawyers, and politicians, and they all criticize the government's illegal acts.
For young viewers, "U.S. vs. John Lennon" will serve as a useful history lesson, a reminder of Lennon's personal valor and political mindset, since they may known Lennon mostly from his hit albums and songs, such "Imagine," "Instant Karma," "Love" and "Revolution."
The story perse begins just weeks before Christmas 1971 when Lennon appears at a benefit for John Sinclair, an anti-war radical and manager of the MC5, who served time for selling joints to an undercover cop. Soon, the FBI becomes aware and alarmed of Lennon's entourage of radical friends, specifically activists of the Yippies and Black Panthers.
Through flashbacks, the docu recreates the Beatles' first major controversy, that is, Lennon's statement about the Fab Four having a greater impact in young people's lives than Jesus, a statement that gets disproportionate media coverage, leading to several rallies against the popular group. Interspersed in the docu is fascinating footage about Vietnam and the media (both in U.S. and U.K.), peace marches and protests in London.
Even back then, Lennon is more outspoken than his comrades. At a press conference, it's Lennon who tackles directly a political question, while his peers look uncomfortable; clearly, they would rather talk about their music and lifestyle than politics.
Turning point in Lennon's life is his meeting with Yoko Ono. "When he found Yoko, he found the rest of his voice," says Mintz. Significantly, the occasional Beatle song gives way to a seven-day protest staged in their honeymoon bed. Ono's performance art finds perfect match in Lennon's celebrity status. Highly compatible, and determined to use their art and wit to political advantage, the couple begin to attract attention, which enables them to popularize their conceit of "bagism" straight into pop culture lore.
Lennon's well-documented on-camera appearances reveal a highly charismatic thinking artist whose message of non-violence is perceived as a threat by the ruling elite. His publicity stunts (weeklong in-bed press conferences, the global "War Is Over" ad campaign) are simple, shrewd, and effective. But as Lennon got more vocal in his anti-war stance, especially when he teamed with performance artist Yoko Ono, Nixon's paranoia escalated, leading to government-ordered wiretapping, surveillance and a plot to deport them.
With fame and celebrity comes further media exposure. Lennon's increased appearances on TV talk shows enable him to put his musically-oriented politics into the living rooms of average middle-class America, and in the process to promote some radical political ideas. By that time, Lennon, barely 30, has become a new kind of celeb, affecting the worlds of music, fashion, art, lifestyle and now American and global politics.
Senator Strom Thurmond suggests reclaiming Lennon's visa, based on the minor charge of a drug bust in England. They set a deadline for Lennon to leave the country - March 15, 1972. However, unfazed, Lennon opts to battle with noted immigration attorney Leon Wildes. A tough negotiator, Wildes sues John Mitchell, charging conspiracy simply and bluntly.
The Gods must have liked Lennon. Winning a landmark case, he is given the Green Card on a special day, his birthday, just hours after Yoko gives birth to their son, Sean.
What contributes to the docu immensely is the soundtrack: 40 of Lennon's songs, 37 from his solo career, are used, but not in chronological order, instead highlighting the docu's thematic concerns. Some will criticize the out-of-sequence musical presentation, since it doesn't illuminate Lennon's evolution as an artist. However, to the filmmakers' credit, this aspect is not one of their goals, which, as noted above, limit themselves to a chronicle of one of the world's most famous peaceniks in recent times.
Postcript: Looming large are the two 1968 political assassinations, of Martin Luther and Senator Robert Kennedy, for being so politically outspoken. Standing his ground and eventually suing the US government for harassment leads to the disclosure of Nixon's notorious black list of enemies. For the record, the Watergate break-in occurred in June 1972 and two years later, In August 1974, Nixon was forced to resign.
this review Copyright 2006 Emanuel Levy
Lennon's tragic murder in 1980 was not politically motivated, but it still underlined how his commitment and convictions were truly inspiration to a whole generation of youngsters.
The Village Voice Review by J. Hoberman
Generic VH1 rock doc, The U.S. vs. John Lennon - opening here next week - is snazzy, mawkish, and practically Pavlovian in recycling all requisite late-'60s images. Given its subject, though, this David Leaf - John Scheinfeld production is not only poignant but even topical.
Once upon a time, in the summer of 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono relocated to New York. Soon, these counterculture deities were chilling with all manner of yippies, Panthers, and underground personalities. Jerry Rubin recruited them to appear at a "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" in liberated Ann Arbor. The U.S. vs. John Lennon opens with a clip from this event, and it's a wondrous shock to see Lennon simply amble onstage to sing. The star's availability is notable, as is his effect. Two days later, Sinclair - serving a 10-year sentence for passing two joints to a narc - was freed, pending appeal.
Follow-up plans were made for a Lennon-Ono rock caravan cum anti-Nixon magical mystery tour to culminate at the 1972 Republican Convention. The idea was to mobilize newly enfranchised 18-year-olds. Perhaps Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan would join! Next, John and Yoko played the Apollo at a benefit for the families of the prisoners shot during the Attica uprising. A February 4 memo from Senator Strom Thurmond to Attorney General John Mitchell suggested Lennon be deported; a month later, the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to renew his visa.
Not since Charlie Chaplin was driven from Cold War America 20 years before had the feds subjected a superstar to such concentrated attention. Lennon eventually prevailed, but he was effectively neutralized for the duration of the presidential campaign. Among other things, Leaf and Scheinfeld establish their protagonist as the most quick-witted of public figures. You needn't be half as sharp to grasp the parallels made to Bush's America.
this review Copyright 2006 The Village Voice
Review by Rich Cline for Shadows On the Wall
Expertly assembled, this crisp, coherent documentary digs into Richard Nixon's infamous list of enemies, centring on the campaign to rid the nation of one of the most famous peaceniks in history.
After a scene-setting prologue, the filmmakers start with Lennon's childhood, the Beatles, their arrival in America and their vocal peace-and-love reaction to the situation in Vietnam (see, of course, Give Peace a Chance and All You Need Is Love). But as Lennon got more vocal in his anti-war stance, especially when he teamed with performance artist Yoko Ono, Nixon's paranoia escalated, leading to government-ordered wiretapping, surveillance and a plot to deport them.
The filmmakers compile an amazing collection of footage, much of it unseen. And they contextualise it by interviewing a wide range of witnesses, from friends and family to journalists, fellow performers, political figures and former FBI agents. They also let others have their say through archival footage, including Lennon himself, as well as Nixon, J Edgar Hoover and younger versions of the interviewees.
The historical chronology is peppered with relevant songs, while Lennon's on-camera comments reveal a thinking artist whose message of complete and utter non-violence is perceived as a threat by those in power. His publicity stunts (weeklong in-bed press conferences, the global "War Is Over" ad campaign) are simple and extremely clever. And the film taps into his personal relationships, revealing a side of the man we've rarely seen before. Instead of giving up and quietly returning to the UK, he stood his ground and eventually sued the US government for harassment, an action that led to the revelation of Nixon's enemies list ... and ultimately the Watergate break-in.
The film gets a little lost in its own importance at the end, but the message is startlingly simple: there's a choice, peace or war, with nothing in between. This is nothing new, but in the late-60s and early 70s (and even now) there were very few people so tenacious about pointing this out. Martin Luther King was killed for saying this. And they tried everything they could to silence Lennon. His tenacity is a real inspiration.
this review Copyright 2006 Rich Cline/Shadows on the Wall
Review by Tim Knight for Reel.com
Although it paints a somewhat idealized portrait of the legendary rocker/political provocateur, The U.S. vs. John Lennon is nonetheless a fascinating, richly detailed documentary chronicling the "smart Beatle's" evolution from pop idol to persona non grata—at least in the eyes of President Nixon, who reportedly placed John Lennon on his notorious "enemies list." Skillfully combining archival footage, Yoko Ono's home movies, and interviews with everyone from Gore Vidal to G. Gordon Liddy, filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld explore Lennon's peace activism against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent decades in recent American history, 1966-1976. The result is an eye-opening, at times infuriating expos?f the covert tactics "Tricky Dick" Nixon and his cronies used in their efforts to deport Lennon in the 1970s.
Made with Ono's full cooperation - hence the film's tendency towards hagiography - The U.S. vs. John Lennon introduces the Liverpudlian as a rebel whose distrust of authority dates from childhood. Never shy about speaking his mind, Lennon famously incurred the record-burning wrath of Bible Belt fundamentalists in 1966 by saying about The Beatles, "We're more popular than Jesus Christ now." But while the uproar surrounding this statement would gradually subside, Lennon would stoke even greater controversy with his anti-Vietnam War activism. With Ono at his side, Lennon began staging political demonstrations, like the "Bed-In for Peace," and taking up the causes of Sixties-era radicals like Black Panther Bobby Seale and yippie Abbie Hoffman.
But it was his appearance at a 1971 benefit concert for John Sinclair - a political activist arrested for selling two joints to an undercover cop - that ultimately put Lennon on Nixon's watch-list. Three days after the concert, the Michigan Supreme Court released Sinclair (he'd received an unduly harsh prison sentence for marijuana possession) in a decision that many attributed to Lennon's appeal on the activist's behalf. Lennon's apparent political influence was not lost on either Nixon or the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover, who stepped up the agency's monitoring of Lennon. Thus began the musician-cum-activist's painful and prolonged struggle against the Nixon Administration, which tried to get him deported on the pretext of a 1960s -era drug bust in London.
In addition to the revealing home movies and stills that Ono generously shared with the filmmakers, the documentary offers a wealth of extraordinary archival footage covering key moments between the mid-Sixties and the mid-Seventies, from the 1968 Democratic National Convention to Nixon's 1974 resignation. And Leaf and Scheinfeld have corralled an incredibly diverse array of public figures from the era - Walter Cronkite, Noam Chomsky, and Tom Smothers, to name three - to comment on both Lennon's activism and the corrupt Nixon administration.
Yet while it's consistently engrossing, the film would ultimately be much stronger if Leaf and Scheinfeld had tempered their admiration for Lennon and taken a more even-handed look at this undeniably witty, intelligent, and passionate man, whose flaws and failings they gloss over a bit too neatly. If they had focused solely on the political activism, their bias wouldn't be so glaring, but Leaf and Scheinfeld seemingly can't resist the urge to romanticize Lennon the man, and his relationship with Ono, by conveniently ignoring some of the more unpleasant truths and consequences of their actions. It's not that Lennon comes across as some "peacenik" martyr - he was too irreverent and self-aware, as the footage of his talk show appearances indicate - but The U.S. vs. John Lennon comes perilously close to framing his fight with the U.S. Government in overly simplistic, black-and-white terms.
In the end, however, the film's many strengths far outweigh its flaws. Whether youre a Lennon fan, or an American history aficionado, The U.S. vs. John Lennon is an illuminating documentary that captures a time of sociopolitical unrest with strikingly vivid immediacy.
This review Copyright 2006 Tim Knight & Reel.com
Review by Diana Saenger for Reel Talk
"Of all the documentaries that have been made about John, this is the one he would have loved," said Yoko Ono after watching The U.S. vs. John Lennon. I think she's right. Directed, written and produced by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, it's a gripping and timely film.
Our country is currently on the brink of supporting or not supporting yet another war in which the United States is engaged. As as evidenced in this documentary, it was not so long ago that other turbulent protests and political unrest filled our daily media outlets.
The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, and soon John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr caused a musical tidal wave around the world. Also in 1964, the United States sent our first troops into Vietnam, which by 1965 numbered 25,000 soldiers. By 1966 the number grew to 100,000; the draft was instituted; and political activists were fueling their own verbal weapons.
Among those who had a strong opinion opposing the war was John Lennon. He wasn't a radical with angry physical protests. In fact, his protest came through new peace-themed songs penned by him and performed with his new bride Yoko Ono. Songs such as "Give Peace a Chance," "Gimme Some Truth," "I Don't Want To Be a Soldier Mama" and "Power to the People" continued to spread Lennon's heartfelt message.
Protests by celebrities have always surfaced during times of turmoil. Recent comments on Iraq from the Dixie Chicks, Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam are among those that come to mind. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is more than conjecture. Its riveting images of Lennon and the nearly always silent Ono conjure up what this couple endured to spread their message of peace. Interspersed with clip after clip of Lennon and Ono during public and private moments, the movie reminds us also of what a great talent the music world lost when Lennon was shot outside his New York apartment.
There are few minutes in the movie that eclipse the political thread of the documentary. Along with many media clips of Lennon and Ono expressing what and why they are doing something, Ono herself provides commentary during the film. She furnished the filmmakers access to the Lennon-Ono private archives, some never before seen or heard, and they add an emotional intensity that tells the story the filmmakers sought to relate.
Other prominent men and women give comments about happenings during the Vietnam years, and some express opinions about today's political actions. These political analysts include African-American political activists Angela Davis and Bobby Seale; journalists Carl Bernstein and Walter Cronkite; Nixon Administration officials G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean; Vietnam veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic; American historian/novelist Gore Vidal; former New York Governor Mario Cuomo; and three-term Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern. What's really interesting here is learning that a few of these people can look back and regret the stance they took or didn't take.
The saga of Lennon and Ono trying to win their case against deportation from the United States, amid clear-cut stalking by U.S. government agencies, swirls among the history of the war years. Present are news clips of the four college students demonstrating against the Nixon-ordered invasion of Cambodia in 1970 who were gunned down and nine others wounded by the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus. Footage also shows Lennon finally receiving his green card in New York City in 1976.
Leaf and Scheinfeld set out to make an adventure story that would answer some long overlooked questions, including why the U.S. government had targeted Lennon, why he was seen by our government as such a threat, and what we can learn from what happened to him. It took me a few moments to get into the documentary, but then I was hooked. In addition to listening to Lennon's music, I discovered so many new angles to important events that helped shape pop culture and political policies of the 1960s and 70s -- and some that may need revisiting today.
This review Copyright 2006 Diana Saenger & Reel Talk
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