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After background about the childhood and youth of John Lennon (1940-1980) and the birth of Vietnam-War protests, the film plunges into Lennon's quest for world peace: compositions such as "Give Peace a Chance", the lie-in following his marriage to Yoko Ono, appearances at concerts, "War Is Over" posters, and plans for a series of concerts in 1972 in U.S. presidential primary states reach newly-enfranchised young voters. This plan for concerts, in particular, led a prominent Senator, the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover, and Nixon's White House to initiate a concerted and illegal effort to deport Lennon. Thirty talking heads, led by Yoko, comment on Lennon and these events. Written by
There is a lot that I love about John Lennon, and a lot that I don't like much about him. I was interested in this film initially, but was not all that impressed. I'll try to explain my problems with it. I suppose I should start by saying that it is not all bad, but anybody who looks at this as "the" documentary on Lennon is grossly misinformed.
In a nutshell, nearly everything in the film had all been said before. It was the first time I felt like I was watching a remake of a documentary! Some people claimed that it was the first time this part of Lennon's life was shown in a documentary, but there was absolutely nothing in this film that hadn't been said elsewhere, be it on film or in a book.
I hated the overused "talking-heads" format. I had no need to hear what Gore Vidal had to say, particularly when he went on about Lennon representing "life" and Nixon and George Bush representing "death". Whatever. I'm not their biggest fan either, but that was pure sensationalism. It's not clear which Bush he was talking about, but Vidal takes every chance he gets to make pompous, oversimplified statements like that.
Geraldo Rivera? You've got to be kidding!
I just wasn't always sure if the film had anything more to say than "John Lennon ruled and Richard Nixon sucked." Does anybody who is going to see this film really need to be told that to the degree that this film tells the audience? While I'm at it, I hated the film's ad campaign. It centered upon the above Vidal quote and counted on people who didn't do their own thinking to applaud it as wholly original and profound. The fact that it bastardized "War Is Over... If You Want It" by making it the film's tagline irritated me, especially since the film wasn't supposed to be about war! Even if you read into it and say that it was about a war between Nixon and Lennon, I still say that's a flimsy reason.
David Leaf is usually much more impressive than this. I, for one, value his work as Brian Wilson's biographer. This film, however, just seemed to be capitalizing on the current documentary craze. It used to be that a viewer could be enlightened and educated by almost every documentary that made its way into cinemas. Not anymore, though. This one simply staples together other, BETTER documentaries about the same stuff. Want to learn about Lennon? Read a book. Watch better Lennon documentaries like Imagine: John Lennon. That film wasn't perfect either, but at least it showed John at his best and at his worst. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is simply John worship that spends so much time treating him like a legend, it forgets to treat him like a man.
I probably would not have felt so negatively had I seen this one on television instead of in a cinema. It was partly produced by VH1, and that's really where it belongs. At least on VH1, it can be taken with a grain of salt alongside I Love the 80s: 1982 and Flava of Love. (Okay, okay, that last part was pretty low, I admit it. I apologize.) I can't say that I hated the whole thing. There were some pretty interesting interviews, particularly the one with John Sinclair. His contribution was the best part of the film. They also made at least some efforts (i.e. two or three I think) to bring in opposing viewpoints so they could say they were being objective.
Above everything else, it is always a pleasure to listen to Lennon, even when he wasn't thinking much about what he said. Yes, friends, even Lennons make mistakes. Either way, his interviews were pretty well used in this film. I walked away really wishing that John were still around to state his case for himself retrospectively.
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