Marx and Lennon

The U.S. vs. John Lennon. A documentary written and directed by
David Leaf and John Scheinfeld.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

john_yoko.jpgIf 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.

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