The U.S. vs. John Lennon
Winter 2007 Documentary series
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 7:00pm
Directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld
Starring John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, George McGovern, Richard Nixon, G. Gordon Liddy, Geraldo Rivera, Ron Kovic
Rated NR ·
David Leaf and John Scheinfeld struggled for over 15 years to produce this documentary, and its emergence in the year 2006 is a testament to the film’s timeliness. The U.S. vs. John Lennon focuses on a part of the music icon’s life that is often overlooked: his politicization both during and after the Vietnam War. Towards the end of the Beatles’ career, Lennon began taking the band in a new direction, using their popularity to circulate a message of peace in songs such as “Revolution.” He became even more involved after the band broke up, and the film traces his growing awareness and dissent through both archival footage — much of which had lain forgotten in vaults for decades — and interviews with those close to him. This leads to the titular case, in which the U.S. government, which had already been monitoring his actions for some time, attempted to deport the star for fear of the threat he posed to the nation.
The film also portrays Lennon’s close relationship with Yoko Ono and the effect she had on his art, including an interview with the Japanese performance artist and muse that sheds much light on the couple’s intimate history. Other interviews feature such luminaries as Mario Cuomo, Gore Vidal, Walter Cronkite, Angela Davis, and even G. Gordon Liddy, the former chief operative under Richard Nixon. The film avoids falling into the trap of one-dimensional idolatry, showing Lennon’s politicization as reflective of his own spiritual path, a very personal, at times fallible, journey towards using his fame to make the world a better place. The constraints and depletion of civil liberties Lennon experienced at the hands of the U.S. government, then in the throws of a neo-McCarthyism, invite comparisons to contemporary politics. The creative ways he fought for expression and peace, meanwhile, expand upon the known brilliance of a remarkable figure.