The U.s. Vs. John Lennon

John Lennon fans probably won't learn much they don't already know about their working-class hero's persecution by the U.S. government, but David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's tight, TV-ready documentary situates the violation of one U.S. resident's civil rights in the context of Nixon-era paranoia and warmongering, a mood the film suggests is once again upon...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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John Lennon fans probably won't learn much they don't already know about their working-class hero's persecution by the U.S. government, but David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's tight, TV-ready documentary situates the violation of one U.S. resident's civil rights in the context of Nixon-era paranoia and warmongering, a mood the film suggests is once again upon us. Starting with Lennon's childhood as a young rebel, the film kicks into gear with an account of his first serious brush with controversy and all-American ire when, attempting to criticize The Beatles' popularity, Lennon announced that the band had become bigger than Jesus. Lennon's growing maturity and awareness of the world around him — filtered though they may have been through naivete, celebrity and fabulous wealth — were solidified by his marriage to Fluxus artist Yoko Ono, who specialized in provocative, often surreal performances. John and Yoko's fanciful media "happenings" — including the widely covered bed-ins for peace, at which Lennon performed the soon-to-be anthemic "Give Peace a Chance" — took on a more serious edge when the couple moved to New York and found themselves among a new group of friends, including Black Panther founder Bobby Seale and yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. This new era of outspoken activism criticizing the war, racial injustice and the Nixon White House culminated in Lennon's appearance at a benefit concert calling for the release of White Panther John Sinclair, a poet sentenced to a 10-year prison stretch for passing two joints to an undercover policewoman. Sinclair's quick subsequent release convinced Nixon of Lennon's formidable power, and with the voting age newly lowered to 18, the incumbent's chances of winning the upcoming 1972 election depended on his ability to appeal to the demographic that loved him least. The last thing he needed was a hugely popular ex-Beatle stumping for the other side. The solution: deport Lennon. Using a minor London drug bust as leverage, the INS launched a public campaign to force Lennon out of the country. What few knew — but an increasingly and justifiably paranoid Lennon suspected — was that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI had already been spying on Lennon with the blessing of those at the highest level of the Nixon administration. Various journalists, Lennon's friends and Yoko discuss Lennon and his Kafka-esque ordeal, while an unapologetic G. Gordon Liddy takes it upon himself to speak on behalf of the administration he helped disgrace. Leaf and Scheinfeld score their footage with thematically appropriate Lennon songs, and the copious clips of John and Yoko voicing controversial opinions from the couches of The Mike Douglas Show and Dick Cavett are startling reminders of the role real talk shows once played in American life. Ending the film with a perfunctory run-through of Lennon's murder on the doorstep of his Manhattan apartment building, however, foregrounds an unfortunate irony: Had the INS succeeded in forcing Lennon out of the U.S., he might be alive today.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: John Lennon fans probably won't learn much they don't already know about their working-class hero's persecution by the U.S. government, but David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's tight, TV-ready documentary situates the violation of one U.S. resident's civil rig… (more)

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