21 February 2007

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

Grade: C

Written & Directed by: David Leaf & John Scheinfeld

Nostalgic in the worst of possible ways, The U.S. vs. John Lennon is yet another entry in the ongoing series of films that would function better as Wikipedia entries. Nothing more than a glorified VH1 special—the fact that it enjoyed a theatrical run is downright stupid—it’s a tired highlight reel of all the big events of the American 1960's (the Kent State massacre, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, etc.) set to the tune of John Lennon’s solo records. It's another pitifully disingenuous depiction of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, the kind that refers to that shallow fraud Abbie Hoffman as a “radical activist” and, by the way, doesn’t even acknowledge that G. Gordon Liddy, who holds a peculiarly prominent talking head position in the film, is a convicted felon.

One way the filmmakers attempt to compensate for their own vacuity is by providing ostentatious mangled photo collage backdrops for the interviewees, who were apparently interviewed in front of a green-screen; another is through gimmicky graphic effects. What am I, an idiot? An artfully edited collage of John Lennon interviews could have been interesting, even enlightening, but instead we’re offered a feature-length episode of “I Love the ‘60s; John Lennon Edition”, with the insufferable Michael Ian Black replaced by the, well, insufferable Geraldo Rivera. You'd be better off Netflixing the Dick Cavett interviews, readership.

The film’s ostensible purpose, to illuminate Lennon’s political career, is pretty thin and primarily covers a surprisingly brief period of his life, the early seventies. Lennon, near the end of his tenure as a Beatle, became politically energized and compelled to use his celebrity to speak out against the War. (That’s the Vietnam War.) The perpetually paranoid Richard Nixon saw him as a threat to his re-election, so consequently the US Government not only tried to deport him, but Hoover’s FBI began to spy-on and intimidate him, measures that now only reaffirm his position, to his fans (like the filmmakers), as the patron saint of rock n’ roll.

Wanting to have it both ways, the filmmakers try to present Lennon as both a radical activist/threat to Nixon’s political career as well as an innocuous artist just speakin' his mind. Jounralist Tariq Ali rightly chuckles on camera when asked if Lennon was a threat to the country, as it’s a notion as laughable as the film itself. But then hey Msr. Leaf & Scheinfeld, what was the first hour of your film about? Lennon was harassed because Nixon was a nut, not because he was changing the world and undermining the status quo; the movie concedes this, but then it doesn't. It’s a funny prank when John & Yoko give a press conference underneath a bag, but no one was taking that seriously, as in, "let's burn down the recruitment station and vote McGovern because a Beatle's wearing a sheet." I’ve got no beef with Lennon, but it’s impossible to take this movie as seriously as it takes itself. I admire him for trying to use his fame for good; he was an intelligent, charming and well-spoken rock star, as the clips in the film show, and I wish there were more like him. That doesn’t make him a Messiah or even a hero, so let’s not get hagiographic over it. John Lennon was far from perfect, something the film never even considers, as a musician, politician, and human being. The unwarranted attempts at apotheosis expose the film as a self-righteous baby-boomer celebration of themselves. Boy, those were the days, huh? Not like the kids today, I’ll tell you that. Well, I’d call and say thanks, guys, but George Bush has my phone tapped.


thomas pitilli said...

I hate how people try to make john lennon seem like Jesus too. He was a fucking musician. It's like that whole Bono bullshit. Yeah he does some really great things in Africa and i'm glad he's encouraging other celebs to use there money for good, but that doesn't take away from the fact that his ego is about the size of Africa. Lennon and Bono did drugs, drank themselves drunk as shit, fucked groupies, cheated on there significant others just like every other rock star. Thats what makes rock stars cool and interesting, Not seeing them take a fucking bath with there wife or meet the Pope. Everytime i see Bono in the news, it makes me regret that i happen to like U2 at times. Every time I hear someone glorifying Lennon, it makes me glad that i was never a fan of his or the Beatles in the first place. The truth of the matter is, I never really got Lennon. I've seen tons of video of him, heard his music, and i just don't see it. He looks like a prick. Oh, and Yoko's a money hungry bitch and has been capitalizing off his death for decades. Later.

Anonymous said...

I thought what made rock stars cool and interesting was the music they made.

Maybe their dance moves and facial expressions as well. (Joe Cocker, Mick Jagger, Brian Bonz, etc.)

Anonymous said...

Add Al Gore, by the way, to ego-maniacs doing good work; although all that self-possession makes it hard to like them, it's not worth the effort of actual antipathy.

I guess, in the case of Lennon, once people invest so much emotion into the music and the person--and especially because he was murdered--it's far too devastating to see them brought down to regular, fallible proportions. Look at the Christian right and their relationship to Jesus--same thing.