Michael Epstein's newest entry to PBS's American Masters series looks great, sounds better, and offers very little we didn't already know about John Lennon -- and glosses over a lot that we do.
One of the throwaway graphical flourishes of Michael Epstein’s LennonNYC, which premiered at the New York Film Festival this weekend, encapsulates the tone of the piece more than any of its assorted sound bites, news footage, or endless parade of archived photographs. During the many segments recounting John Lennon’s recording studio sessions, black and white sketch lines scribble themselves over candid images, following features of faces, needles of meters, microphone stands, guitar strings, outlines of hands, contours of music stands. They evoke a whimsical teenager doodling over pages of Teen Beat: her idle tracing is a crude paean to the stars and starlets she so admires. LennonNYC is a work of nostalgic devotion in the very same, criminally respectful mode. I ended up wishing it were more like this imagined girl’s brother, stealing her mags to draw mustaches and penises all over it.
Not that I wanted to see the doc gossip away Lennon’s dignity, but it would be nice to hear a little bit about how this Beatle wasn’t great. His somewhat well-known relationship with May Pang, which lasted a year-and-a-half or so after he and Yoko Ono separated—his so-called “Lost Weekend”—is sublimated to the point of teasing ambiguity. You’d think it was simply a matter of courtesy to his survivors, mainly Ono—who was, incidentally, present at the screening I attended at the Lincoln Center’s Starr Theater. When Epstein’s narrative reaches this chapter, though, she seems on the verge of mentioning the affair by name. So much so, that I conclude she did, only to be silenced in the editing process.