The U.S. vs. John Lennon
Time Out says
Though contemporary celebrities adopt causes like they’re stray kitties, precious few have the cojones to take political stances in today’s “patriotic” landscape. John Lennon, however, never gave a flying fuck when it came to flipping off the establishment. Already a countercultural icon when 1968’s summer of hate rolled around, the radicalized post-Beatles Lennon and wife Yoko Ono staged absurdist antiwar demonstrations in their honeymoon suite and brought Black Panther Bobby Seale on The Mike Douglas Show. Nixon’s dirty-tricks committee took notice, and tried to deport the adopted New Yorker. History later awarded that President instant karma, and the musician enjoyed some good years in Gotham before a tragic end.
A tribute to Lennon as a media manipulator and man of principle, David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s documentary works best as a Cliffs Notes history of the era’s dissent. Talking heads like Ron Kovic and Angela Davis weigh in on the significance of speaking out, which gives context to Lennon chanting hippie-dippy slogans and hurling vitriol. If only the film were as bold as its subject: Produced by VH1, it sticks to the channel’s music-doc modus operandi of pop-up graphics, interview-heavy transitions and spots carved out for commercial breaks. Considering the tacky handling of Lennon’s murder (overly loud gunshots are a little tasteless here, fellas), perhaps the overall adherence to formula was a blessing. Still, for anyone who thinks the working-class hero just wrote “I Am the Walrus,” the movie is a nice eye-opener, if not a call to arms.—David Fear
(Opens Fri; see Now Playing for venues.)