The US vs John Lennon
Richard Nixon was no Lennonist. And Lennon wasn't crazy about Tricky Dick either. In the politicized climate of the early 70s he went much further into the radical fringe than his Beatles brethren, hanging out with the Black Panthers and key figures in the anti-war movement, like 'yippie' Jerry Rubin. These associations did not go unnoticed. The FBI opened a file on him, and soon John began to notice strange clicking sounds whenever he picked up the phone.
Put together in the by-the-numbers VH-1 collage style (with - count 'em - 40 Lennon songs in rapid succession) David Leaf and John Scheinfield's film begins with a quick intro to Beatlemania - I guess there are kids out there in need of a history lesson - and positions John as a natural rebel whose infamous comment about being 'bigger than Jesus' drew down the wrath of the moral majority.
Yoko Ono collaborated with the filmmakers, even granting them a rare interview, and the movie finds its focus as she enters the picture. There is insightful commentary on the newlyweds' 'bed-in' for peace, and a useful opportunity to compare Lennon's wit, originality and idealism with the hostility, cynicism and incomprehension of most in the media.
Admittedly it's a one-sided case, the gospel according to St John. But then with the Nixon crowd in the other corner it's all too easy to demarcate good from evil. (Watergate architect G Gordon Liddy is the film's designated government spokesman).
Paranoid and corrupt, the Republicans decided it would be expedient to be rid of this meddlesome pop star and set the Department of Immigration to deport him. Ironically, if this persecution had been approved by the courts, Lennon might still have been with us today.
Heavyweights like Gore Vidal, George McGovern and Ron Kovic are wheeled on to provide the cultural background, and though most of them had next to nothing to do with Lennon himself the point is clear: the catastrophic folly of Vietnam had a way of radicalising young people, artists, intellectuals, and even some politicians.
John always said he was an artist, not a politician, but the movie is much more interested in him as an anti-war spokesperson and potential martyr for the cause. If that's an inadequate take on a complex and contradictory individual, it's still a legitimate angle to explore, and The US vs John Lennon is cogent and moving whether you see it as an introduction to the man and his times, or just a reminder. Contemporary parallels are obvious (just ask the Dixie Chicks), though that doesn't make them any less pertinent.
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