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The U.S. vs. John Lennon

September 17th, 2006 (12:54 pm)

A quickie, but here you go.

© 2006 D. Gordon

So yesterday I saw The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a documentary about John Lennon's fight to prevent his deportation from the U.S. in the early / mid 1970s.

John Lennon had always been a hellion, and it's fair to consider him the most politically active of the Beatles; some of his statements, in fact, had caused problems for the group along the way. Combine his inclinations with his meeting Yoko Ono, the breakup of the Beatles, and the Lennons' targeting the attention that John could command (even on their honeymoon - which was much more brilliant than I think they get credit for), and you see some clear possibilities. Add the friends that they started making after moving to the U.S. (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale), and the concert for John Sinclair - surprisingly more effective than anyone expected, probably because of Lennon's participation - and you bring in the attention of the Nixon White House.

Some quick points:

  • This is very well done. There's quite a bit of detail, from friends (Tommy Smothers), foes (G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean), and observers (Jon Wiener, Walker Cronkite, Gore Vidal), and a lot of what Jon Wiener found in the FBI Lennon files that wasn't public knowledge but is hard fact.
  • While it's well done, there are some noticeable - gaping - holes. Cynthia and Julian Lennon are nowhere to be seen. More importantly, John's lost "weekend" with May Pang is never mentioned. His separation from Yoko Ono, his time in L.A., and just his conduct given that the FBI and INS were trying to deport him, must have had some impact on the case. (Damn, now I wish I'd gone to the showing with Leon Wildes, the Lennon's immigration lawyer, at the Q & A). Yoko Ono has a substantial presence, and there's a special thanks to her at the end - and she's most definitely the Keeper of the Flame - so maybe that explains all.
  • The documentary starts with 1966. While an explanation of John's early rebellions are definitely necessary, there was a little too much time spent on this period.
  • There are also clear parallels to be made between the Nixon Administration and the current Bush Administration (a questionable war, a disregard for inconvenient laws), but only Gore Vidal actually mentions those parallels, and I'm not sure why. The filmmakers could have gone either way. Everyone bringing it up would have pushed this into current politics and away from the documentary focus it was aiming to achieve. Not mentioning it at all would have introduced the "elephant in the room" effect. But scant mention seems to make it almost indecision on the part of the filmmakers.
  • One "fun" factoid: the Senator who apparently brought Lennon's activities to the attention of the Nixon Administration was... Strom Thurmond.
  • Lennon's murder is mentioned. That was expected, and isn't necessarily a negative, but the movie could have been complete without it.
  • It's also interesting to see how John included Yoko Ono in everything he did, but the press rarely paid attention to what she was saying in interviews (and even John interrupts her a number of times).
John Lennon always has been an idol and an influence in my life, even as I grew older and learned about the blemishes. The documentary was a good way to go back and remember just what I admired about the man, and to find out new information.

And I continue to think that there is something wrong with a world where John Lennon didn't get the opportunity to grow old.


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: September 20th, 2006 03:21 pm (UTC)

This is about a specific time in Lennon's life, not a biography about his whole life. Cynthia, Julian, May Pang, Beatles are NOT relevant to this PARTICULAR activist time in John Lennon's life. Why does everyone always complain when these people are omitted? The US vs Lennon and his struggles with citizenship began AFTER Cynthia and Julian were out of his life and BEFORE May Pang was. Even though John was with May for 1 year during this time period she had NOTHING to do with his immegration problems or status. In FACT, John being in an extra marital relationship during such proceedings to become a US citizen is about the dumbest thing a person seeking citizenship could do, but then that's Yoko for ya.

Posted by: lady_wakasa (lady_wakasa)
Posted at: September 21st, 2006 12:09 am (UTC)

That was my point about May Pang. Not that she was involved in the actual case, but that having an affair with her was going to add ammunition to the government's case against Lennon. That's definitely relevant.

And - the immigration issue ran from 1972 to 1975. If you want to date it to the end of the Nixon presidency, that would be August 1974. The May Pang episode was the end of 1973 to early 1975. So she definitely was around for the residency (green card, not citizenship) issue.

Cynthia and Julian are tangential - but you can argue that the last 10 or so minutes of the film after John gets his green card - discussing Sean after his birth, and Lennon's murder, as well as the amount of information provided about the Beatles - are just about as tangential to the story.

I'm not saying that this has to be a full biography. But there are some things that happened to Lennon in this time period that aren't covered in the story.

But what is there is well done.

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