2006-10-13 / Columnists

MovieScope

'The U.S. Vs. John Lennon' - The Battling Beatle
Commentary By Robert Snyder


Known as the "smart" Beatle, John Lennon could also be called the "smartass" Beatle, particularly after he left the Fab Four and went on his own with second wife Yoko Ono.

His first major encounter with controversy was pre-Ono, when he made the provocative assessment that "the Beatles were more popular than Jesus." It was a remark that ultimately prevented the group from touring for safety reasons.

But divisiveness hardly phased Lennon. In fact, he encouraged it, befriending such FBI enemies as activists Bobby Seale and Angela Davis, then singing a song that freed John Sinclair from his 10-year prison term for selling two joints to a narc. While vigorously fighting to end the Vietnam War, Lennon was hit with deportation papers. His battle with the Immigration Department is thoroughly chronicled in 'The U.S. vs. John Lennon," a documentary which is distinctly on the late great Beatle's side... probably because of the all-encompassing input from Ms. Ono, with much of the footage coming out of her private archive.

Written, directed and produced by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" clearly has an axe to grind against J. Edgar Hoover, Strom Thurmond, Richard Nixon and his administration officials, along with other right-wing figures from the '60's and '70's. After finally being exonerated, Lennon quips, "Time wounds all heels," the theme of this fascinating film, which resonates today with the world's current war-torn troubles. It's not difficult to "Imagine" what the rock poet would think of the wars in Iraq and the Mid-east, where his '70's anthem, "Give peace a Chance," seems more apt than ever.

What makes this a wonderfully watchable documentary is Lennon himself, who's eternally interesting, exciting, witty and imaginative. He comes with his own magical music, much of which is either highly memorable or barely recognizable, but still revelatory.

The "bad guys" (G. Gordon Liddy, Thurmond, Nixon, Hoover) appear worse than ever, while the "good guys" (Gore Vidal, Tommy Smothers, Walter Cronkite, Ron Kovic, Sinclair, the Christlike Lennon) come off as saviors. Even Ono seems sweet and demure, not "the evil witch who destroyed the Beatles." Paul McCartney is almost non-existent. The birth of Sean Lennon is equivalent to the Second Coming. Julian Lennon? Who's he?

Packed with devastating news footage from the Vietnam War, Kent State shootings, peace demonstrations and Lennon's activist concerts, "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is definitely a documentary in the Michael Moore "Fahrenheit 9/11" spin-doctor tradition. This is not objective reporting.

Lennon fans will love it. Others should stay home.

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