Reviews

LENNONYC

Michael Epstein's moving documentary offers fresh insights into the lives of John Lennon.


John Lennon

LENNONYC

Label: A&E
US Release Date: 2010-12-07
UK Release Date: 2010-11-23
Amazon
iTunes

With the arrival of each autumn, we enter the season of John Lennon. We celebrate his birth in October, mourn his passing in December, and most likely hear his Christmas song a few dozen times along the way. This past Lennon season was far more active than usual. To commemorate what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday, the marketplace was hit with a hitherto unseen deluge of Lennon product, some necessary (a sonic upgrade for his solo catalogue) and some less necessary (the questionable biopic Nowhere Boy). Arriving unassumingly in the midst of this great blizzard is Michael Epstein’s LENNONYC, an unexpectedly moving documentary that offers a revealing glimpse into Lennon’s art and personal life during his last few years.

Of course, the lack of anticipation surrounding LENNONYC is no doubt due to the fact that every aspect of Lennon’s life has been dissected time and time again in every form of media imaginable. The Beatles may not be bigger than Jesus but they’ve certainly spawned more documentaries. If Andrew Solt’s Imagine: John Lennon is still the definitive Lennon doc then LENNONYCC is an essential companion piece that brings together a refreshing cast of talking heads, several of whom who are telling their stories on camera for the first time. Working with the full cooperation of Yoko Ono, Epstein tastefully applies his archival discoveries to the Lennon iconography and completes the arduous task of offering a fresh perspective on the lives of John Lennon.

The Plastic Ono Band/Imagine era is pretty well worn territory at this point. Recognizing this, Epstein wisely opens his film in late-1971, when Lennon arrived in New York just another immigrant in search of a fresh start. The most famous rock star in the world reveled in semi-anonymous big city living; renting a tiny apartment in the West Village and walking the streets undisturbed. A man with big ideas and an even bigger platform to transmit them from, Lennon soon found himself in more trouble than he left behind in the UK.

Aligning himself with a variety of anti-establishment causes, Lennon quickly found himself a target of the Nixon administration, who launched a deportation campaign against him that would drag on for years. Lennon’s struggle for citizenship was covered extensively in The U.S vs. John Lennon, yet Epstein unearths even more previously unseen material to help bolster our understanding of that particular period. We get to hear Lennon perform (and defend) “Woman is the Nigger of the World” on the Dick Cavett Show, and we finally get some words from the mysterious Elephant’s Memory Band, his go to backup band during the earl-'70s. You’ve surely seen the footage of Lennon’s only major post-Beatles solo performance (1972's One to One Concert), but you probably didn’t know that this show was supposed to be a warm up for a major US tour.

The New York City honeymoon period wouldn’t last long. The One to One show was savaged by critics, scuttling what would have been the first US solo tour by a Beatle. On the evening of Nixon’s reelection, a drunk and depressed Lennon brought his entourage to Jerry Rubin’s apartment, where Lennon proceeded to have noisy sex with a stranger, an embarrassing event that Yoko Ono still has trouble describing almost 40 years later. With his marriage and career on the downturn, Lennon split for the West Coast, where he lived out his infamous Lost Weekend over the next few years. Most of the material from this period has been available for some time, yet it’s always a kick to hear the ridiculous studio banter from the notorious, Phil Spector helmed Rock N’ Roll sessions. Elton John and legendary drummer Jim Keltner make rare appearances here and May Pang, Lennon’s stopgap girlfriend, provides some wonderful insights as well as the last known photos of Lennon and Paul McCartney.

We already know how the final chapter of this film is going to play out but that doesn’t mean it can’t break our hearts one last time. Lennon quits the bottle, saves his marriage and has a baby before retiring from music for nearly five years. He eventually rediscovers his muse and hits the studio to crank out tunes with horribly ironic titles like “Life Begins at 40” before his life ends at 40. It’s this final period of Lennon’s life where the myth is finally stripped away from the man. Friends, from photographer Bob Gruen to final label head David Geffen, all remark on the Lennon’s successful quest for inner peace while Double Fantasy session players portray Lennon as a man operating at the peak of his creative powers. A recording of Lennon saying goodnight to his son Sean from one of his final sessions is almost too much to take. When December 8th finally arrives (presented tactfully here with familiar images of the candlelight vigil outside of the Dakota), it hits harder than ever. A teary, still bereaved Yoko Ono asks the same question we’ve been asking for 30 years. “Why would you want to kill an artist?”

Michael Epstein and his crew deserve commendation for presenting another side of John Lennon. If unreleased footage and comprehensive interviews aren’t enough to draw you to LENNONYC, there’s always the man himself. Few people could ever tell you what it’s like to be human better than John Lennon could, and his words here, whether he’s preaching peace or ordering sushi, continue to captivate and inform. We’ll always turn to John Lennon for his music and his message and we’ll remain poorer in his absence.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.