David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, US, 2006, 100 mins
Cast: John Lennon, Yoko Ono
Review by Carol Allen
Although well laced with music, this is
a documentary which concentrates more on Lennon as political
animal rather than that of a musician, dealing as it does
not only with his battle against US immigration's attempts
to deport him in the '70s but with his public activism for
peace and other causes in the preceding years.
This caused him to be hated and feared
by President Richard Nixon, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and
other establishment figures – a somewhat paranoid
over reaction in view of the fact that he was, after all,
only a rock star, not a politician or a general.
The film gives a carefully researched
historical overview of the times with some well chosen
talking heads –Angela
Davis, Yoko Ono, Bobby Seal, Tariq Ali, the ever perceptive
Gore Vidal and Walter Cronkite, a master of dry understatement
with his remark that "Hoover had a slightly different
version of democracy from the rest of us".
It is also fascinating to see all those young turks as they
have grown old.
The unquestioning, sometimes saccharine love and loyalty
of Lennon's supporters is counterbalanced by the man himself
with plenty of examples of his caustic and sometimes cruel
wit, including a vitriolic exchange between him and a female
reporter, while his self-satirising pacifist antics with
Yoko, like the famous 'bed-in' in Amsterdam and Montreal,
make their point in an amusing way.
Among the most enlightening aspects
of the movie are the “dirty
tricks” admissions of the other side, such as the FBI
agent who confesses shamefacedly: “We were used by
the government to stifle dissent”, with the implication
that these activities included assassination. These contrast
well with the self-justifications of the still unrepentant
Watergate jailbird G. Gordon Liddy.
The powerful archive material of the protests against the
Vietnam war makes one sadly aware of how history is now repeating
itself in Iraq and the film could have made more of this.
It also implies that once Nixon was out of office, the FBI
hound was put safely back on the leash and the danger of
covert investigation was over. However, suspicions are aroused
that this is not the case and it would be helpful to hear
something about its activities today with regard to those
who protest about the Iraq war and other aspects of American
society and way of life. But that would be another movie.