The U.S. vs. John Lennon. A documentary written and directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
If you’ve never seen a documentary on John Lennon, this will do, though there seems to be only one revelation here that propelled the filmmakers to put Lennon’s last years on screen again: Apparently Nixon involved himself in an effort to deport John. This VH1 production opens extensive pictorial and musical archives to enhance the rich blend of comedy and drama here. But in some ways, the filmmakers both overstate and understate the real reason Lennon had a role in popular political consciousness during the days that stretched from the breakup of the Beatles in 1969 to the advent of Reagan’s reactionary Morning in America.
Lennon was beloved despite his often disappointing solo albums. And though Angela Davis is interviewed here and declares Lennon an important voice in the peace movement, back then the radical left and gentler movement folk had big problems with him. Remember “Working Class Hero”? It seems like an antiwar anthem in this film. But Lennon’s song concludes, “You think you’re so clever and classless and free / But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.” This riled some people, as did his soft-pedaling in “Revolution.”
Yet this real Lennon was riveting to millions — bigger than Jesus sometimes. A film that delved more into why that was true would be more intriguing than hinting that Lennon’s battle with U.S. Immigration Services was a microcosm of Watergate. The film sanctifies Lennon, barely hinting at his dark side, which includes his lost year in Los Angeles in the mid 1970s and getting thrown out of the Troubadour drunk. Fortunately, the film emphasizes his self-deprecating humor, and that helps dim the halo some. But Lennon, a great genius and a troubled soul, deserves more honesty than this. Nonetheless, the film forms a good outline of his life and of the ’60s. At its best, it underscores the scary parallel between Nixon’s paranoia and Bush’s single-minded pursuit of yet another war without justification.