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I hope everyone sees this film, as it is a window into the life of an extraordinary person, who really did influence a generation with his music and his courage. But, I especially hope that the generations that came after John Lennon left us, so unexpectedly, have a chance to see this thoughtful and fitting tribute to the gentle artist who turned the hurt he experienced as a child into an international revolution with a spirit so open and willing to risk everything he had to teach the world that all we really need is love. This film explains to all of us, who were too young to understand what was going on, at the time, how John Lennon was persecuted by the U.S. government for simply expressing his opinion about the war in Viet Nam. How he was investigated, tapped, and followed, then threatened with deportation, in an effort to derail a tour that might have had a significant influence on the outcome of the 1972 presidential election, in which Richard Nixon was re-elected. The scenes of teenagers burning their Beatles records in protest of his quip that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus, are eerily parallel with the Dixie Chicks fans who did the same thing. Excerpts from Nixon's speeches about the war are almost word-for-word the same rhetoric we get from Bush. This film is important, and moving, and includes some of the best music I know I'll ever hear in this lifetime. Go see it and get inspired.
For those who are too young to remember the real John Winston Ono
Lennon -- this film is a good introduction to why he mattered so, why
so many people were (and are) devoted to him as an artist and a man,
why he was truly the most original voice of his generation.
The film is not perfect -- but in its defense, it covers an extraordinary amount of material and does it well.
Lennon lived 100 lifetimes between 1969 and 1975.
This film concentrates on the biggest conflict he faced at that time: his struggles to remain in the US, and the right-wing paranoia (exemplified by FBI director J Edgar Hoover and Nixon's hatchet man, John Ehrlichman.)
Lennon's sincerity, his naiveté, his charisma shine throughout.
Yoko has been attacked (so what else is new) for being such a strong presence in the film but she was right there beside him. They lived it all together. And she does not use her camera time to diminish him in any way.
Strong recommendation -- primarily because we have to remind ourselves that there are times to speak up and times to act.
John Lennon: we miss you so.
One of the younger reviewers commented:
"I couldn't help but compare the era and social climate around this movie to what we are experiencing today. I am disturbed and disappointed. Why is it that it seemed as if there were loads more people being active in what they believed back in those days. I understand that it was a different time, and many in the world were just learning to use their voices... Perhaps we feel that we just don't know enough about a subject to get behind it and speak out? ... Perhaps large protests are just being overlooked because we as viewers or the media is over it... I am just wondering why I haven't done more. Why does it seem as if people today (not just my "generation" or my "community") are fearful or apathetic towards fighting for what they think is right? I don't want to preach or be dramatic here - I'm not telling you to view things my/their/our/its/his/her way. I'm just saying, I can't imagine that we've gone through life without seeing some sort of injustice - there has to be something you've seen that you think is wrong... why not say something about it? Is being charitable enough anymore? Awareness is key. Why is there this silence amongst us?"
Perhaps I'm being too simplistic, but I've often thought as a survivor of the Viet-Nam era, that the main reason we haven't seen protests of the magnitude depicted in The US vs John Lennon in recent times is simply the absence of the draft. Plenty of people again object to the war situation, but without the threat of involuntary servitude there simply is no critical mass. The fear of self, friends, and family being rounded up and shot proved great motivation to get people out in the streets back then. The censorship of the media imposed since Viet-Nam (embedded journalists, qv) has also helped still the voices.
So at the very least, this film has helped present an historical perspective all but absent in the present day. Viet-Nam so divided the country that the divisions remain today. Yet that war is curiously neglected in our educational curricula.
Beyond that is revealed a portrait of John Lennon, artist and young man. Lennon, the single one of the Four who strove at great personal cost to better the world with far more than silly love songs is revealed here in a montage of film and stills that conveys far more than the press of the time was able or wiling to.
The film opens with footage from his 1971 appearance at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Area in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a former UM Ann Arbor Student I particularly appreciate how the producers of the film illustrate the pivotal nature of that event. At the time the event seemed like a big deal locally, but one that was lost amongst the din of social commotion. As close as I was geographically, I didn't realize then just how influential Lennon's (or Sinclair's) involvement was in the successful movement to end the war.
I suggest that any student (young or older) of how that peace movement progressed back then should see this film. Serious students should see it more than once. In addition to the collection of seldom seen film footage, there is a very fine sound track. See the film on the big screen if you can. I'll put my order in for the DVD as soon as it can be had, but the big screen, hi-fi version rocks.
For those of us who followed Lennon and the Beatles through those
tumultuous years, this was a simple summary that really didn't break
any ground or uncover any new information. The filmmakers were more
excited to find a few pieces of lost or mislabeled footage, such as
Lennon being given his green card, than to enlighten those of us who
were along for the ride all along. But it was good to hear from John
again, even to say "flower power didn't work, so what? You do something
else." No coverage was given John's activism or lack thereof during his
infamous "lost weekend." Yoko's constant presence saw to that.
But I would love for my son and his generation to see it. Much of what is going on today has gone unchallenged, and the return of the J. Edgar Hooverization of America has been obvious to those of us who were awake back then.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival without
expecting much. I'm non- American, wasn't really old enough to live and
understand what went on during the whole Beatles/John Lennon era,
hadn't studied much American history growing up, and only heard some of
his music and heard of his assassination, but couldn't fathom the
linkage between the USA and John Lennon.
My cynicism made me think this would be a solicitous film, working off the past fame and hysteria surrounding the Beatles and this musical man. It was quite the opposite. It was intellectual, at times emotional and very engaging. A very clever and tight story around John Lennon and his interaction and perception with the US government clearly showed a David vs. Goliath stand-off. With my sympathies undoubtedly going to Lennon and wife Yoko Ono.
I mean, what could the US government find so offensive about a man delivering a peace message 'Imagine all the people -- living life in peace' to the Americans from the UK? Well -- when the man moves to New York and starts becoming friends with pro-peace Americans, like Abby Hoffman, then you see just why a pro-war government under Richard Nixon would be utterly worried about the rising influence of peace-maker John Lennon.
As a result of this movie, my respect for Yoko has increased, in fact she was present at the screening to a much adoring crowd garnering a standing ovation. Michael Moore's attendance at the screening and his support for the movie also let the movie resonate against the present.
While I hardly consider myself political, this movie raises the stakes in becoming involved and shows what one man could do against what he thought was wrong. And the music of John Lennon has taken on all new meaning.
I'm going to listen to some of his music now.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If "The
U.S. vs. John Lennon" is anything, it's an examination of the
similarities between the Nixon Administration and the national debacle
that was the Vietnam War, compared to the current Bush Administration
and the national debacle that is the Iraq War. The difference, of
course, is that Nixon had John and Yoko Lennon to contend with. Who do
we have to lead our protests and write our anthems? Michael Moore? Not
When Lennon moved to New York City in 1970, the Nixon Administration was terrified that he had the power to organize the anti-war protesters and affect the outcome of elections (particularly Nixon's 1972 run for re-election). Lennon was wiretapped and followed by the FBI (which was being used at that time to "quell decent"). The Immigration and Naturalization Service tried for five years to deport him, but he got a lawyer and fought back, and in 1976, on his birthday, on his son Sean's birthday, he learned that he and Yoko had won their case, and they could stay.
"The U.S. vs. John Lennon" makes you want to take a stand, organize a protest, demand peace, and stick it to the man!
"Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or
hunger. A brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, Sharing all the
world. You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. I hope
someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one." John Lennon,
"Imagine" "All we are saying, Is give peace a chance." John Lennon,
Give Peace a Chance I can't help hearing the song "Imagine" and feeling
a little teary-eyed. I still remember being part of the worldwide vigil
after John Lennon's murder and hearing the idealistic song, depicting a
vision at that time suddenly sounding cruelly out-of-reach. The Beatles
is one of those very few groups that seems to enjoy near-universal
appreciation, from folks in their teens through those in retirement,
including classical music aficionados as well as heavy metal
enthusiasts. The songwriting power behind the group was primarily the
genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, both of whom continued on to
successful, creative solo careers.
With that background, how could I not jump at the opportunity to see a film about John Lennon? "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is a documentary about the life of Lennon, specifically focusing on his peace activism during the Vietnam War era. I was certainly aware of his political engagement and songs such as "Give Peace a Chance", "Power to the People", and "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)". And I vaguely recall that there were some immigration issues that this English man faced in America. But I was not fully aware of, or perhaps forgot, how strongly the Nixon administration sought to deport John Lennon simply based on his views and activism.
The film moved at a very appropriate pace, introducing enough biography to help better understand the germane issues, quickly going through John's childhood, involvement with the Beatles, and marriage to his wife Yoko Ono. Consummate musician, John is quoted as saying that all that he really wanted to do was to make music. But the escalating violence in Vietnam made him an outspoken critic of the war. A master of publicity, he even turned what he knew would be dogged press during his honeymoon to his advantage by staging a well covered love-in for peace urging love and not war.
Richard Nixon held the office of President of the United States from 1969-1974 and is the only President to have resigned, facing impeachment for the "Watergate" scandal and clear abuse of power. In spite of election promises, Nixon plunged the country into deeper war with Vietnam amidst growing public outcry.
With the help of the heavy-handed J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for almost fifty years (from 1924 until his death in 1972), the Nixon administration sought to silence some in the anti-war movement. It tried to deport John Lennon and, finding that he had a small charge of marijuana possession filed back in England earlier, used that as a pretext to demand his departure.
Eventually, Lennon's lawyer countersued and proved that the Nixon administration has conspired against him, with people from the very top of the government involved. Lennon won and was granted permanent immigration status to allow him to stay in New York, the city he loved. Unfortunately, in 1980, John Lennon was gunned down outside of his New York apartment by a deluded fan.
"The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is a moving film about a person larger than reality as if being a prolific and well-recognized songwriter weren't enough, he was a singer, guitarist, author, and political leader who embodied nonviolence and peace, influenced by Gandhi and he was very influential in each of these areas. Many would say that Lennon was one of the key spokespersons of the generation that came of age in the 1960s, and offered a vision of a world united by zest for living together and not divided by petty differences. It is also a film about how unchecked power can try to wield unfair influence in attacking its perceived enemies.
A vivid history lesson accompanied by many brilliant songs of John Lennon's, I highly recommend "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" to all (note that it is rated PG-13 for some "strong language, violent images and drug references" but I wonder if that is a little overstated). Viewers will (re)learn important biographical and historical aspects of the man and times, and, more importantly, see John Lennon's message for its universality and timelessness. The music alone will likely rekindle or begin new memories, and the documentary is a fascinating review of an important era in recent history.
8 stars out of 10
--Dilip Barman, Durham, NC
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The court case of The United States vs. John Lennon was an attempt by
the United States to deport an undesirable immigrant who at one time
plead guilty to the possession of marijuana. That's the underlining
narrative of this film: How John Lennon won his Green Card. (In reality
- Nixon was paranoid that peace-loving Lennon could sway the youth vote
in the 1972 election - hence the U.S. government tried to kick him out
of the country.)
Filmmakers Leaf and Scheinfeld said they tried selling this idea as a film for years - starting in the 1990's. It wasn't until 2004 (that is, post 9/11, post invasion of Iraq) that a studio green-lit this project. The documentary is crafted intentionally to draw parallels between Vietnam and our current situation in Iraq. However, they never come right out and say it (except once - Gore Vidal slips Bush's name in - during an interview he made for this film.)
The 'U.S. vs JOHN LENNON' transports us back to the era of the Vietnam War, using tons of rarely-seen footage. Thanks to Yoko Ono, Leaf and Scheinfeld had unlimited access to the Lennon archives. Master tapes of his songs were used (sometimes with the vocals removed) allowing Lennon to create the entire music soundtrack. We even hear home recordings of John speaking to his baby Sean (who we hear coo-ing into the microphone).
The Black Panthers, activist Abbie Hoffman, Angela Davis... many of the movers and shakers of the peace movement are covered in this film. Also included is a tapestry of Walter Cronkite news bulletins, Nixon speeches, and war footage.
G. Gordon Liddy's interview represents the corrupt viewpoint of the Nixon administration: "I saw all these peace marchers carrying candles. I grabbed one of the guys' hands - used his candle to light my cigar, and said 'Well, at least you're good for something.'"
Yoko Ono comes across as a very nice person in this film (not her normal demonized stereotype character.) After watching this movie, I now have a profound respect, not only for post-Beatle John Lennon, but, for Yoko Ono as well. This movie will undoubtedly revise a lot of people's opinion about her.
Unfortunately, there's the obligatory assassination mention at the end. Leaf and Scheinfeld handle it nicely, and deal with it in under five minutes, but it really seems tacked on. Yes, we all know Lennon was shot, but only a conspiracy theorist would believe it was related to his peacenik activities (which, THANKFULLY, the film does not suggest.)
Imagine, for a moment, you could do anything. What would you do?
Already at the height of his career, the sheer scale of possibilities
before John Lennon amazed even this high-aspiring rebel. Triggered in
no small part by his meeting with Yoko Ono, a conceptual artist
obsessed with breaking down barriers, Lennon had to decide if there was
a greater purpose to which he could devote his musical talent, fame and
fortune. Mass protests against the Vietnam War were sweeping America.
Lennon's aspiration became quite simple (some would say simplistic):
let's give peace a chance. The U.S. vs. John Lennon uses previously
unreleased archive footage, plus documentation obtained under the
Freedom of Information Act, to chart this ex-Beatle's political
activism and his struggle with the U.S. authorities in the late 60's
and early 1970's.
It's a remarkable tour de force. Many people know Lennon as an ex-Beatle, for his song Imagine and the fact that he got shot. The extent of his political activism, the method in his apparent madness, would seem more like another conspiracy theory in less capable hands. Lennon's efforts seem directly linked (initially) to getting another activist out of jail and then making sure the war-bent presidency, White House and FBI lose lots of sleep over the war.
Directors Leaf and Scheinfeld are past masters at making serious pop culture retrospectives. In an age of technology and spin, how do we know 'documentary' filmmakers are telling us facts? Firstly, what's on the film. There are interviews with high-ranking former government and FBI agents. Then there are declassified documents, not just quoted but shown on the screen. Finally there is the official website which provides an external way of checking transparency and sources once you get home. If you thought Lennon was a cool guy - or maybe even your childhood hero - this film shows how incredibly cool - and courageous - he actually was.
Says director Scheinfeld: "We live in a time where everything's a reality show. John and Yoko were essentially pioneers in that, but they weren't using it to promote an album. They weren't using it to promote a movie. They weren't doing it to promote anything except peace and that's what makes them heroic artists here. And then to have the courage to stand up to the power of the United States - the presidency, the White House, the FBI and the INS . . ." Lennon's song 'Give Peace a Chance' became the national anthem of the anti-war movement. He linked up with other activists (including the Black Panther movement) using his public persona - and often his own money - to synchronise the peaceful protests and give them such force that, at the point where Nixon was campaigning for re-election, Lennon had been singled out for deportation. He backed down over personal appearances at an anti-Nixon concert tour (which would follow the latter's campaign trail) as government officials stepped up the campaign of harassment against him with wiretapping and surveillance. Rightly or wrongly, Lennon feared for his life. This was a time when the Secret Services had the authority to take people out if deemed in the national interest.
The website documentation shows how the Reagan administration continued to obstruct release of information on Lennon even in April 1981. The FBI cited its authority under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold "information which is currently and properly classified . . . in the interest of the national defense or foreign policy." The downside of the film is that many people simply won't care. Gore Vidal takes a modern sideswipe at Bush and Iraq, but the comparison is weak. Vietnam was not preceded by a 9/11 or a Pearl Harbour and the united opposition to the Vietnam War was on an unprecedented level: protests turned into riots, several civilians were shot, and the powers of the government were far reaching even by today's standards. Although the film sometimes plays like a top-notch TV documentary, the levels of professionalism shown by the filmmakers set it apart. It's also an unsung paean to the most important part of Lennon's life and what he would no doubt like to be remembered for. He might not have been Gandhi, but there was more to him than the wacky, druggy rockstar most of us remember.
"You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one," wrote Lennon.
It reminded me of another famous saying: "All men dream: but not equally . . . the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible." The U.S. vs. John Lennon is more than a testament to John Lennon. It is the story of how one man tried to make his dreams reality.
I was in high school in 1980 when John Lennon was assassinated and all I really knew about him was that he was a musician and a member of the Beatles. I found this documentary fascinating, which gave an excellent insight into Lennon's participation in and effect on the anti-war movement in the US during the Vietnam War. I came away with a greater respect of the man and what he tried to do along with with his wife and the pressures they faced from the US government who wanted to silence them. Although some parts were something of a rehash about the anti-war movement in general, the skillful editing along with use of numerous interviews and recorded material still made it enjoyable and informative. One can not help but draw a comparison between this film and message and the on-going debate over the Iraq war, which I suspect was one of the goals of those who made it. I saw this film at a suburban Washington DC theater this weekend, and when one of the interviewees said "John Lennon represented light, and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represented death" at least half the audience clapped. I guess it made its point to this audience. If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.
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