Vol. 2, Issue #4 March 16th - March 29th, 2007

DVD Review:
The U.S. vs. John Lennon (Lionsgate)
By: Wilhelm Murg

This is a theatrical VH1 documentary made in co-operation with Yoko Ono who was extensively interviewed and she allowed the filmmakers to use Lennon’s music. The result a VH1 rockumentary rather than a serious study.

The film opens in 1966 with the backlash over Lennon’s comment that The Beatles were “more popular than Christ,” and shows it as the beginning of his outspokenness in the media. It follows his marriage to Ono and their two Bed-Ins for Peace, where they stayed in bed for a week and talked to reporters – “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded at the end of second Bed-In. The song was later sung by a half million demonstrators in Washington D.C. during the second Vietnam Moratorium Day in 1969, which was noted by the Nixon Whitehouse.

In 1971 the Lennons befriended various counter-culture leaders, including the Yippy organizers Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Lennon appeared at the “Free John Sinclair” concert in Michigan, in support of the political activist who was given ten years in prison for selling two joints to an undercover officer. Because of the public outcry the state supreme court released Sinclair within 48 hours of the concert. Senator Strom Thurman felt Lennon had become dangerously popular and brought the musician’s anti-war activism to the attention of the Nixon Whitehouse, which began procedures to have Lennon deported due to a misdemeanor marijuana conviction against him in England in the 1960s. Lennon fought deportation for the next four years by constantly appealing every order to leave the country.

The documentary is mildly interesting, but you get the feeling that the filmmakers couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted to focus on Lennon or if they wanted to make a broader documentary on what was going on in America. They have an impressive list of interviewees, including Noam Chomsky, Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Ron Kovic, G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean, Sen. George McGovern, and Gore Vidal, but like those VH1 “I Love The Seventies” shows that feature commentators who were not born until the 1980s, most of these people never knew Lennon, or barely knew him. We get a broad view of the Nixon administration’s paranoia, but an enormous chunk of the Lennons’ story is left out, including their heroin addiction and separation during these years. Very little is mentioned on the F.B.I. file, but since the film’s release all of the Lennon files have been declassified; it turned out the F.B.I. had nothing that the average Beatle fanatic didn’t already know, but they fought for decades to keep the files away from the public, probably out of embarrassment.

The DVD has no commentary, but does include outtakes from the interviews that, unfortunately, show how broad the interviews got, such as when Liddy mentions that the filmmakers brought up the Dixie Chicks. The Dixie Chicks? Ultimately this is an entertaining but incomplete history lesson. I give it a good strong C, at best.

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