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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
A well-made and paced documentary about John Lennon and his free speech victory - important story told with Lennon's brilliant music
"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
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