A review of “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for mature themes and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

 

 

Musical icon John Lennon gets his day in the sun in this unflinching documentary about the far-reaching power of celebrity.

Lennon circa late sixties was a principled and sanctimonious superstar drunk on his own clout. Once on his Yoko Ono path Lennon developed a powerful urge to say and do whatever he felt.

This was the very fact that caused the U.S. Government to sit up and take notice; a flopsy-haired hippie with the authority to sway the masses with little more than a word or a public appearance.

The Dixie Chicks have nothing on Lennon. His first disquieting act was a benefit concert for poet cum White Panther Party leader John Sinclair, who was jailed for possession and serving a ten-year prison sentence. Three days after social activist Lennon headlined the “Free John Now Rally” Sinclair was released from prison.

That kind of influence threatened the Nixon Administration and how. Once Lennon put down roots in New York the jig was up; his stance on world peace and his potent antiwar views were more than the powers that be could handle. U.S. Immigration put the screws to him, seeking to deport him and dragging out the legal process for years.

One can’t deny that Lennon was a brilliant musician/songwriter. His fierce stand against injustice and his eager intelligence is to be admired but, personally, his smug attitude rankled then and it rankles now. Lennon masterfully manipulated his own celebrity for a cause while managing a passionate, witty and thoughtful portrayal. That’s the essence of this absorbing doc – the impassioned sentiment that both illuminates and provokes.

The government wages war on the world’s most beloved songster to the snappy beat of Lennon’s post-Beatles soundtrack, public and private footage, and endless words of moral authority from a wide range of the era’s notable figures -- G. Gordon Liddy, Carl Bernstein, Bobby Seale, etc. And naturally Ono herself, the notorious partner with whom Lennon shared an ardent dedication to the ideals of peace.

Contentious, engaging and very timely.