The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006)

Genres - History, Music  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Politics & Government, Social History  |   Release Date - Sep 15, 2006 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Perry Seibert

The hagiographic documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon is yet another salvo in the continuing effort to present only the "St. John" aspect of Lennon's public persona. The filmmakers reuse file footage familiar to any avid Beatle fan, and incorporate a number of talking heads to explain how the Nixon White House attempted to deport Lennon after he began to both publicly and financially support the anti-war movement in America. The filmmakers, with the help of interviewee Gore Vidal, make parallels between Nixon and president George W. Bush, offering them up as merchants of death whom Lennon's spirit of life stood in direct opposition to. The subject matter is certainly easy to connect with, but in the end this is yet another film that, like 1988's Imagine, squanders that chance to construct a human image of Lennon that includes all the substantial -- if unflattering -- details, and opts instead to paint him as a legend, omitting all the information that might actually teach us something new. The U.S. vs. John Lennon heralds the artist for writing songs like "Imagine," and for promoting peace, but less endearing memories are glaringly omitted, for instance how the same album where Lennon sang about a "brotherhood of man" also featured a song called "How Do You Sleep?" -- an open attack on his former collaborator and friend Paul McCartney that offered such biting insults as, "the only thing you did was "Yesterday." The film similarly awkwardly excludes more disturbing aspects of Lennon's personal life, such as his nights of public drunkenness and his fractured relationship with his son Julian.

Though these facts have become part of the public consciousness, the film ignores them because they don't fit with the narrative it follows so rigidly: the martyrdom built around Lennon after his tragic murder. This refusal to address the more troubling aspects of Lennon's personality would be less of a problem if it weren't for the fact that the film sidesteps some of the most infamous periods of his life, specifically his time in California separated from Yoko. His evenings of drunken excess might have stemmed from his ongoing legal and political battle, but the filmmakers never waver from the view of John as the symbol of everything good about the '60s. By the time the story reaches its remarkably manipulative depiction of Lennon's sudden death, you have a film that avoids as many issues as it addresses. It's a real shame, because by refusing to play fair about the man, the filmmakers compromise their central idea about the government's willingness to suppress dissent -- a message that could otherwise have been truly profound.