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Imagine: John Lennon Reviews

Commissioned by Yoko Ono, who gave the filmmakers access to hundreds of hours of film and audio recordings made by the artist in his lifetime, IMAGINE: JOHN LENNON is as thorough a documentation of Lennon's life as could be expected to fit into a 100-minute running time. It provides no great depth and generally steers away from Lennon's dark side. But it treats him with the respect he deserves without being mawkish or too fan-oriented. The film's structure crosscuts a chronological recounting of Lennon's life with footage taken at his Tittenhurst Estate in 1971, as he was recording the album "Imagine." It's a sensible choice, given that this was Lennon's most popular solo work and that little of the film had ever been seen. In this footage, he is seen rehearsing and recording songs with producer Phil Spector and George Harrison. He also meets with a fan who has been sleeping in his garden, convinced that Lennon's songs comprise a personal message to him. (While viewers will make the comparison between this overly avid fan and Mark David Chapman, Lennon's assassin, the film never does, perhaps out of a wish to avoid encouraging other would-be celebrity killers, it never even mentions Chapman's name, let alone discussing his motivations and psychology.) The other sections of the film depict the standard history of Lennon's life, from parental abandonment to teen days honing his chops with the Beatles in seedy German clubs; overwhelming worldwide fame and the crush of celebrity, leading him and Yoko to a series of tongue-in-cheek stunts designed to use that celebrity to promote the simple ideas of love and peace; his retirement from public life after the birth of his second son and death shortly after recording his first album in five years. What most sets IMAGINE apart from other such documentaries is that it is narrated by Lennon himself, using commentary taken from 100 hours of audio tapes. The film also features interviews with those who knew Lennon, including his Aunt Mimi (Mary Elizabeth Smith) who raised him, his wives and sons. Conspicuously absent are his former Beatle bandmates; whether they were invited to appear or refused is not known. While the filmmakers may have wanted to separate Lennon the man from Lennon the Beatle, that simply isn't possible, and some important elements are omitted -- the influence of Bob Dylan, the giddy but ruinous Apple enterprise. On the other hand, the Lennon fan will find much fresh footage to cherish, including an extended confrontation at the Montreal Bed-In between Lennon and right-wing cartoonist Al Capp, and the startling sequence of Lennon and Ono undressing and making love, shot near the end of his life. By no means comprehensive, IMAGINE is nevertheless an impressive and informative introduction to one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. (Nudity, sexual situations, profanity.)