As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon's death, there is quite a bit of new material being produced. As the BBC has just released "Lennon Naked," a fictionalized bio-pic of John's tumultuous last years in England--this accomplished documentary by Michael Epstein takes up right where that piece left off. (I mention this only because I happened to watch them in conjunction, not that it has any relevance to this particular item). Initially, "LennoNYC" starts out as a real love letter to New York City--and I thought that this might be an intriguing and different approach. Within a couple of minutes, though, this documentary settles into a familiar chronological framework and begins to recount the last decade of Lennon's life. Lennon, being a public personality, obviously has tons of archival footage to utilize. Epstein has done a nice job integrating actual press footage, home movies, and modern day interviews to flesh out a complicated artist on a journey to contentment.
"LennoNYC" can essentially be broken into four segments, but of course there is some overlap:
1) Activism: The sequence of Lennon's arrival and first years in NYC is populated with much political and social activity. From the awareness rallies to the immigration department's effort to deport Lennon and Ono--there is a idealism at work to change the system. When Nixon gets reelected, Lennon's despondency leads to the next phase represented in the documentary.
2) Artistry: Lennon separates from Yoko Ono after a very public infidelity and heads to drunken debauchery as a recording artist in Los Angeles. He won't return to New York again until he is sober and ready move on to more serious matters.
3) Domesticity: Reunited with Ono and happy at home with his new son Sean, Lennon withdraws from the music scene. His obvious joy with Sean is touching (poor Julian rates a 30 second mention).
4) Contentment: Lennon is putting it all together--awareness, music, and family life for once seem to balance and everything seems on tract. There is obviously a bittersweet quality to this last segment as we know what is to come.
"LennoNYC" doesn't break any new ground as a film and, in truth, doesn't offer too much in new material. Of course, Lennon is one of the most documented figures of the last 50 years--so it's no surprise! But Epstein's documentary is an effective and affecting portrait of Lennon's last years. It doesn't shy away from some of Lennon's more unpleasant moments, but I think it was both hopeful and uplifting. A fitting tribute to an artist, who while not always likable, came to a place of serenity. Lennon's legacy and legend remain a unique and poignant part of history. KGHarris, 11/10.