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The U.S. vs. John Lennon

Written by Subject: Entertainment: Movies
Musician. Humanitarian. National Threat.

A documentary film focusing on the rebellious and antiwar activist life of the Beatles', John Lennon. Culminating with the U.S. government bringing all its resources to bear on kicking him out of the country before he can upset President Richard Nixon's plans for re-election. Hence the title of the movie.

I went to the screening, having seen the trailer. I grew up with the music of John Lennon, but never cared a great deal for his music. I am reasonably familiar with the popular music of my time to have recognized John Lennon wrote music for music's sake, including lyrics, that often did not appeal to broad audiences (i.e., pop music). Both his music and lyrics were musically profound branding him as a man who really understood the composition of music.

So I did not expect a whole lot from this film. Boy was I pleasantly surprised!

The documentary makes a good case for John Lennon being a forceful leader in the antiwar peace movement. With a lot of help from Nixon and Co. It seems often the case that your friends can hurt you more than your enemies, and your enemies often unwittingly promote your cause. Some of that is evident in this movie.

The mainstream media (the press in those days when papers still had influence), did not understand John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They seemed an oddball couple. Freaks. Out of the ordinary. Slap whatever label here. And the media did their best to belittle them. But I was struck by John Lennon’s realization that his notoriety would cause the press to feed, and give him an opportunity to get his message out: Which literally was "Peace." And it was fun to watch him discuss his plans to use the media, including telling the media to their face that they were their for him to use, and they were going to use him because they had no choice but to use him. Smart man.

The peace movement had a good and consistent friend in John and Yoko.

"They [government] like to get you violent, because then they know how to handle you." – John Lennon

The film starts with portraying Lennon as a rebellious lad, who held all authority in contempt. It was his mouth that was responsible for the wave of right wing Christian anti-Beatles' movement that swept the nation before the Beatles arrived. The free publicity was enormous and negative (ala the Dixie Chicks – only Lennon ostensibly insulted Jesus, not LBJ, so the Beatle's weren't destroyed). But the band survived the attack, and their fame grew along with their bank accounts.

What clearly comes out in this film is John Lennon's belief that peace is always better than war. [And at one point he recognises the validity of defense in response to aggression.] And he has embraced the non-violent peace movement, and rejected the violent anti-war, anti-poverty/discrimination faction that existed in the late 60's, early 70's.

Yet as his ability to draw media and people to his cause grew, so did the desire of the more radical anti-government people to use him to promote their own causes.

"Songs about peace become frightening for those who want to hum The Battle Hymn of the Republic." – Gore Vidal

Right around here is where he frightens the Nixon administration, already hard at work (i.e., CREEP) to re-elect the President. John Lennon appears at a free concert in Michigan. Tens of thousands of people attend. A man named John Sinclair is spending ten years in jail for selling two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover cop in a setup sting. He was being made an example of by America's – Land of the Free – Drug War. The state's supreme court had just affirmed his sentence that Friday. John Lennon had written a song specifically for him, and sang it. Hundreds of calls started being made. The press started asking questions. Monday morning, unbidden, the Supreme Court met again and completely reversed itself, setting Mr. Sinclair free.

This power in a man who was proselytizing the same message Mr. Nixon's Democratic opponent, George McGovern, and rumors were afoot he was going to appear at a similar free concert in the city where the Republican's were having their convention sent the Whitehouse into a furious effort to eliminate John Lennon as a threat to Mr. Nixon’s re-election. Mr. Lennon had become an enemy of the state.

The entire apparatus of the federal government goes after a man who preaches peace. It was a close thing.

Staring: Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, Angela Davis, Ron Kovic, John Lennon (archive footage), G. Gordon Liddy, George McGovern, Richard Nixon (archive footage), Yoko Ono, Geraldo Rivera, Bobby Seale and Gore Vidal.

It is not a perfect movie. But it is worth the price of admission if you like documentaries, or John Lennon (his music populates the movie). I did not leave the theater disappointed. I came away with a new respect for the man. Literally his senseless killing by some pathetic crap hound who killed him just to become infamous – what was his name again? – leaves me wondering what audacious acts Lennon would have done over the latest U.S. escapades in the Middle East were he still among us.

Currently in limited release in NY and LA. Opens limited across U.S. Oct. 20, 2006, including Phoenix and Tucson. (99 min., unrated, no nudity, some language, some government violence and middle finger gestures)

UK official site

US official site (don’t let the Grudge Report site throw you)

Rotten Tomatoes


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