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Studio: A&e Home Video Release Date: 01/25/2011
John Lennon famously began his life in working-class Liverpool. Just as famously, he lost it in every-class New York. This edition of American Masters explores the nine years he spent in the United States, counting the recording of 1973's Mind Games in Los Angeles during his infamous lost weekend. Director Michael Epstein compiles his words with new interviews, photographs, home movies, and performances (including studio outtakes). In 1971, Lennon and Yoko Ono sought to escape the hostility of the London press and reinvent themselves, so they moved to the Big Apple, where they hobnobbed with Andy Warhol and Abbie Hoffman. Former senator Tom Hayden talks about their efforts on behalf of the antiwar movement and how that caught the attention of the Feds who tried to deport them, while musicians recall the making of albums like 1974's Walls and Bridges. Ono remembers Lennon's househusband days with fondness, even if she still seems hurt when describing the night he slept with another woman (Lennon nemesis Richard Nixon had just won the presidency). In the end, he found the happiness he sought, even if it didn't last. Other speakers include photographer Bob Gruen, talk show host Dick Cavett, Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas, and Elton John, Lennon's duet partner on the chart-topper "Whatever Gets You Through the Night." LennoNYC, which takes an even-handed look at an enormously talented human being, duplicates events that appear in other films, like Imagine, but there's enough vital material here to please fans old and new alike. --Kathleen C. Fennessy --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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This Lennon profile is special in that it's not a documentary about his entire life, but as the title suggests, focuses on his time in New York City with Yoko Ono, using numerous interviews with friends and bandmates along with never before-released in-studio recordings of Lennon. This is a documentary that assumes you already know quite a bit about Lennon and know why his time in New York is important and then goes on to both explain why this is true and give you a behind the scenes look at his life at this time. Without glossing over any of the rough patches (including the hiatus John and Yoko took and his subsequent time in Los Angeles), writer and director Michael Epstein gives audiences a true portrait of the legendary musician and activist as seen through the eyes of those around him (including Yoko Ono) and captured in in-studio recording sessions.
The film is thoroughly engaging, though not always structurally clear. Epstein begins with the story of Lennon as an immigrant, looking to make New York City his home though the United States government (the Nixon administration to be more specific) is seeking to get him deported for his various activist causes. This is an intriguing theme, and we're privy to many of those around him discussing being followed and the FBI keeping records on them, but this storyline builds quickly and then goes on the backburner for over an hour before reappearing briefly at the very end. It's an incredible part of Lennon's story and well presented, but Epstein plays up Lennon's immigration status so much in the opening that I always felt like I was waiting for that piece of the story to come back into play. The best parts of the film are the clips of Lennon in the studio and those around him discussing his studio style. Listening to Lennon in the studio is even more fascinating than you might suspect.
The portion of the film (near the end) that deals with John's time after mending ties with Yoko, the birth of his son Sean, and the work on his last album is especially touching. As with any Lennon documentary, the ending left me wishing that there was a documentary about some alternate universe where Lennon was still alive so that the ending didn't have to be so sad.
This invites the audience to contemplate his struggles through his political regime. His agenda inclines him into staging concerts for humanitarian issues: the "Ten For Two Concert" in 1971 and the "One To One Concert" in 1972. And it's in this year that John and Yoko are being blacklisted by the Nixon Administration and the FBI for the subversive nature of their political views. The deportation process is well outlined here. What makes this part of his story so incredible is that his influence is so strong that he's able to rankle the sensibilities of the U.S. officials in power for the next few years. Topping all this is a pointed interview with Yoko indicating that the downward spiral in their marriage leading to their eventual separation germinated on the evening that Nixon defeated George McGovern.
The next year and a half will show John and Yoko coming to terms with their separation. Producer Jack Douglas provides fascinating tidbits of John's popcraft as he explains John's compositional and lyrical techniques during the making of "Mind Games". There's fine footage on that evening at Elton John's Madison Square Garden performance when the reconciliation between John and Yoko gets underway.
The film essays the spirit that, in the last five years of John's life, he actually has a sense of belonging - particularly telling once Sean is born. It's made more clear that by 1980, John had come full circle and he seemed revitalized in making interesting music again while securing his family life. Although this omits interviews with Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon, the value of this film is that it offers a display of the charismatic hold that John exerts on his fanbase well past that fateful night. A worthy addition to what may be a much-shared knowledge.
"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.
It sheds more light on this chapter in John's life than any video representation that preceded it. There's the induction and swift exit into the civil rights revolts spearheaded by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the 'Free John Sinclair' rally (whose audio and video have finally been remastered), the appearance with Elton at Madison Square Garden in '75, the years fighting deportation, the hatred Nixon and Hoover had for him in these deportation nightmares (and vice-versa), his 'lost weeks' in L.A. with Harry Nillson, Keith Moon, Ringo and Paul McCartney, previously unheard studio versions and rehearsals, musical cues from John, comments, banter, arguments and screaming matches with Phil Spector, self-imposed retirement and life as a father and househusband with infant Sean, and the return to the Record Plant to resume his career, criminally cut-short by his assassination in 1980 on his 40th birthday. (Thankfully, not much time is spent dwelling on this tragedy).
What sets this apart from your typical documentary are the graphic visuals, photos, and dialogue spread out on the screen over the photographic images like Ralph Steadman's H.S.T. verbal artillery or 'Yellow Submarine' speech splattering, lending movement to what would otherwise be much more static and sedate. It flows along so well that it seems the ending comes too soon, and that can't be a bad thing in a documentary, now can it? No matter how many hours of video you have of Lennon and the Beatles, this dvd brings something different and welcome to the table. Commemorating the final decade in the life of one of the 20th Century's most influential and uniquely important figures, it proves that even today, Lennon remains relevant and will be forever missed, though with us always. Long Live Lennon.
On thanksgiving day, after all the cooking was done and the family was engorged with food,
I stole away upstairs to watch this from my recliner and though it didn't really hit on many
things that I didn't already know about Lennon during this period, the final decade of his life,
I did think it was done well and yes, I would and will buy it for my collection.
I just liked John Lennon's whole vibe and what he stood for in his life.
The other reviewers have already articulated alot of the particulars, so I kept mine
straight to the point! (-: