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The U.S. vs. John Lennon (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Call me a cock-eyed optimist. Whenever I go to a documentary, I hope for even-handedness. That was what I was hoping. But a list of the people interviewed in this documentary, which is advertised as being the story of former Beatle John Lennonís efforts to not be deported from the United States shows how little the filmmakers were interested in equity.

Hereís a partial list of those who comment in this film:

Carl Bernstein

Noam Chomsky

Walter Cronkite

Mario Cuomo

Angela Davis

John Dean

Ron Kovic

George McGovern

Elliot Mintz

Geraldo Rivera

Bobby Seale

Tom Smothers

Gore Vidal

Get the picture? Virtually the only person who isnít so far left that they would have been comfortable in Leninís politburo is G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate infamy. Liddy was the only person involved with Watergate who stayed true to his convictions and didnít squeal like a stuck pig, as did John Dean and the rest of them.

So you canít go into this film and think youíre going to get a straight story about Lennon and why the United States wanted to deport him. As near as I can understand, the legal reason they wanted to deport him because he had a drug conviction on his record and that would make it contrary to law for him to remain in the United States, but thatís never made clear in this film.

Unfortunately, the first hour and 20 minutes of this film is devoted to the opposition to the Vietnam War, including the Kent State shootings. I guess that the story of Lennon fighting to stay in the country didnít have enough to it to justify a full length feature film, so writers-directors-producers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld padded it with a complete history of opposition to the Vietnam War.

The result is the near canonization of Lennon as a secular saint without requiring any miracles. I was (am) a Beatlemaniac, but Iím no admirer of John Lennon as a thinker. He had a way with words and melody:

Here come old flattop

He come grooving up slowly

He got Joo Joo eyeball,

He one holy roller

He got hair down to his knee

Got to be a  joker.

He just do what he please.

But was he a thinker? He joined a group of musicians who opposed the Vietnam War. But their opposition was shallow and one-dimensional. They didnít like the fact that Americans were dying. That, in itself, didnít set them apart from virtually every American at the time. What set them apart was that they apparently didnít give a continental about Vietnamese dying or losing freedom. None of them ever gave a fig about the fact that when Watergate resulted in the U.S. losing a war that was won, over 2 million South Vietnamese were either killed, imprisoned, or went into voluntary exile in one of the largest mass exoduses in human history.

Lennon never articulates any thought process that went into his opposition to the war in this film. We are just told that he was against the war, fought deportation, and is then awarded his halo as a saint.

Thatís the substance of the film. Aside from the bias, its weakness is that it is far too long and very poorly edited. If Leaf and Scheinfeld wanted to really tell the story of John Lennonís battle to stay in the United States, they could have done so easily in 90 minutes and could have given both sides of the controversy.

Because they spend so much time setting up what happened during the Vietnam era (does anybody not know that?) and ignore the reasons the government gave for trying to deport Lennon, they greatly lessen their impact. That failure converts this from a documentary into a propagandistic diatribe. Letís face it, what did Mario Cuomo have to do with John Lennonís deportation? Obviously, nothing. Cuomo is here because he is an articulate orator who is passionately leftwing. Scheinfeld confirms his basis as an ideologue by speaking from what sound like Democrat and Al Qaeda talking points, tiresomely equating President Bush with President Nixon, calling him a ďlying president,Ē with ďillegal wiretaps.Ē This alone robs the movie of whatever verisimilitude it might have had, which wasnít much.

But the worst part of the film is that it is just boring. I was looking forward to it, even anticipating its bias, but was greatly disappointed.

August 26, 2006