When Mark Chapman is on his first taxi ride through Times Square, large Broadway posters of Wicked and Hairspray are clearly visible in the background. Both musicals only began their run within the last 9 years. See more »
Expecting little more than an arty exercise in film-making, this turned out to be an exceptional film. Despite its low-budget, this independent feature is a supremely well-made, handsomely filmed and fascinating psychological journey into Mark Chapman's twisted mindset, from his background in Hawaii till his dramatic encounter with John Lennon outside the Dakota building.
Piddington largely based the film on Chapman's detailed diary entries and makes extensive use of voice-over, turning the film into an almost dream-like experience. Shot entirely on locations in Hawaii, Georgia and New York, it's remarkable how he achieved to give the locale - New York in particular - the necessary sleazy and grim 1980 look. In one scene, we see Manhattan through the dirty windows of a taxi cab. When looking carefully, some modern cars can be spotted and some modern neon signs, not around in 1980, but the photography is such, even these small anomalies don't matter at all.
Newcomer Jonas Ball captivates completely as Mark Chapman, filled with narcissistic resentment and anger, desperately looking for a way out of Honolulu, destined to make some kind of claim to the outside world. Although we know exactly what's going to happen, his every encounter he has becomes frightening, even when we know the only person he ever harmed was Lennon. When he picks up a copy of J.D. Salinger's "A Catcher in the Rye", this becomes his everyday bible and its main protagonist, Holden Caulfield's, loathing of 'phoneys', leads Chapman to think Lennon is the biggest phoney of all.
In an interesting Q & A with the director afterwards, Piddington said he based everything on firm, hard evidence and tried to make the film as factually accurate as possible. He even challenged the audience to find factual errors in the film. Not that factual accuracy is that important to me, but he surely set out to make this with a clear factual approach, largely based on press cuttings, police files and books about Chapman.
One of the interesting things about Chapman's psychology is that he didn't have a lifelong obsession with John Lennon. He randomly picked up a book from the shelf in the local library with photos from John Lennon, but if he would have read a book about The Rolling Stones at that time, 'it would have been Mick Jagger all over the sidewalk', according to Piddington. His obsession was largely self-centered. He wanted to be famous. The murder didn't follow out of any reasoned hatred against the person of Lennon himself. Lennon was a phoney, but George C. Scott was on his list too.
Mark Chapman is also the first known case of a celebrity stalker. I'm sure there were cases of stalking before, but no-one was even convicted for stalking before this case, let alone murdering a celebrity. In a certain way, Chapman might be the first true example of a 'modern stalker', a media-driven obsessed man, longing for media fame himself. 'I was nobody', he claimed,'until I killed the biggest somebody in the world.' When incarcerated and watching the news about Reagan's assassination attempt, he exclaimed they got the idea from him. Actually, it was Jodie Foster in TAXI DRIVER that sparked that one, but Chapman's actions might have given the definitive push.
If there's any minor knit-picking, keeping this from hitting the bulls-eye completely, is would be the ending. It seemed like the last half hour consisted of one climax after another, like Piddington wasn't sure how to wrap it up. It didn't really matter to me, because the film kept me in a state of trance till the very end, but if I were the producer or a potential distributor, I would demand some reworking of the ending. But this a very minute reservation about an otherwise great film, that clearly deserves a run at bigger markets. Highly recommended.
Camera Obscura --- 9/10
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