Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The U. S. vs. John Lennon
The After Hours Film Society packed the Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove for its showing of The U.S. vs. John Lennon. Around one hundred people stayed for the discussion late Monday night.
"Does it bother you that Yoko approved all the content of this film?" asked one of the discussion leaders. "No," one man answered, "we are usually given the other side. This was tribute, not journalism." The group of mostly Lennon fans agreed. They wished we had a figure like Lennon today.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon starts in Ann Arbor, Michigan at a rally for the release of John Sinclair, a marijuana advocate who was sentenced to two years in prison for possession. Up on the stage with anti-war activists like Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale, Lennon sings a song he has composed for the occasion. The Nixon administration takes notice, and J. Edgar Hoover assigns F.B.I. agents to follow the musician.
The film then turns back to Lennon's youth and his career with the Beatles, showing how he was always stirring controversy. With statements about religion, use of drugs, and criticism of the Vietnam War, he irked American conservatives who held bonfires to burn Beatles albums, photos, and collectibles. He marries performance artist Yoko Ono, and, under hand printed "Make Love Not War" signs, they spend a week-long honeymoon in Amsterdam in bed surrounded by reporters and followers. Denied entry into the U.S., the couple repeated the in-bed protest in Montreal under the lights of American television.
Lennon and Ono are then allowed into the U.S. and settle in New York, where they start appearing on Dick Cavett's talk show, recording anti-war songs, and meeting American radicals. For Christmas, the couple covers the city (and 11 other international cities) with billboards saying "War is Over ... If You Want, Merry Christmas, John and Yoko." Because they are stirring such trouble, the Immigration Service starts deportation hearings against John, who was arrested for marijuana possession in London years earlier. The latter part of the film focuses on Lennon's efforts to stay in the U.S.
In addition to film of the period and a soundtrack of Lennon music, The U.S. vs. John Lennon is full of recent interviews with newsmen, activists, writers, and government agents of the time. Walter Cronkite, George McGovern, Gore Vidal, Tommy Smothers, and Angela Davis are among thirty plus interviewees. John Dean and a couple of F.B.I. agents seem contrite, ruing what they did. Only G. Gordon Liddy maintains the Nixon administration was doing the right thing with its "dirty tricks."
The DVD of The U.S. vs. John Lennon with 50 minutes of additional scenes will be released February 13. Many libraries should add it to their collections and consider it for discussions.