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John Lennon's Love Affair With New York

 

It was a slightly surreal experience being in London on Wednesday evening and watching the new documentary film LENNONNYC , an account of famed musician and activist John Lennon’s final ten years in his adopted city of New York. While the London Film Festival crowd was certainly enthusiastic about a film that brought them closer to one of their icons, the barbs from Lennon and his wife and artistic collaborator Yoko Ono were far from flattering about John’s native country. “I just couldn’t’ live there anymore”, Lennon says at one point of the film. “I couldn’t handle the hounding  by the media and the public, who always wanted more, more, more.” For Ono, the UK press had especially unmerciful, calling her ugly, ambitious and hanging on her the mantle that still smarts over 40 years later, as “that bitch who broke up the Beatles”.

 

 

However LENNONNYC is quite charitable towards Ms. Ono, showing her as the bulwark for Lennon’s impetuousness, naivete and lack of business sense. Lennon felt that he was more than a pop star and Ono, with her own avant-garde art career and set of intellectual friends, was the one who brought him much needed stability as well as exposing him to the intellectual and social concerns of the day. As the film chronicles, when Lennon spends a year in Los Angeles after being told by Ono to leave following Lennon’s indiscreet liaison with a woman at a party, he nearly cracks up. For someone so rich and so famous, he had few people skills and did not know how to do the simplest things, since he had “handlers” since age 22 and the tsunami of fame that came with being one of the Beatles.

 

The persona of the overgrown kid, always with a wicked twinkle in his eye and an outrageous word on his mouth, that Lennon cultivated in the films A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP were clearly an accurate reflection of the man himself. However, this kind of persona was more an outgrowth of the 1950s rebellion that took this Liverpool lad from the working class slum to international fame by the age of 22. Not an intellectual, his political activism by inspired by his inherent sense of justice and fairplay and the influence of the people that, frankly, Ono introduced to him.

 

After the Beatles finally did break up in 1970, Lennon realized his dream of moving to New York. “I always felt I should have been born in New York”, Lennon declares in the film and his love affair with the city is indeed intoxicating. He hobnobbed with such underground art figures as Andy Warhol and spent time with the revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. His vocal anti-Vietnam War rallying cries at his concerts and protest events (remember the famous “protest in bed”) got him on a secret list of the FBI and the Nixon administration, precipitating a 5 year battle against extradition that clearly was a source of tension in his life and even in his music.

 

After that battle ended and he was given a  green card of residency and returned to New York in the mid 1970s after his Los Angeles fiasco of drugs, drink and violent behavior, Lennon cherished the role as house husband to Yoko Ono and eventually as stay-at-home father to their son Sean. His years living in the famed Dakota Hotel in Manhattan doing the simple things of market shopping, picking up his son from nursery school, walking unobtrusively on the streets, were amongst the simple pleasures he discovered while he was pushing towards the age of 40.

 

 

As a kind of gift to himself and a testament to his new stability and the fulfillment of his role as father and husband, Lennon began making music again with the Double Fantasy album with which he collaborated with his wife. The early reviews were positive and life’s fulfillments, including the simple pleasures of being a New Yorker, were described by Lennon as the happiest of his life.

 

We all know what happened next. The film is remarkably restrained in dealing with the tragedy of his fatal shooting by a deranged fan in December 2000, just using the echo of a police siren and the low chanting by fans of the song “Give Peace A Chance” outside the Lennon’s apartment window. However, the incident still remains a shocking one of great personal and universal waste ”Why would anyone want to kill an artist?, Yoko Ono asks directly to the camera (a question she undoubtedly has asked  herself privately many times). That his demise came at a time way after his initial public success, when he was in many ways just another man, living in harmony with his family and attempting to do something relevant with his music, is a terrible irony of the costs that success demands.

 

The film features many original takes from the recording sessions of his last few New York-produced music albums, revealing his sharp wit and gentle nature. Rare home movies, recording outtakes and blithe images of Lennon simply walking the streets of the city he loved make up the film’s most endearing and enduring images.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor

 

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About Festival Circuit

Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

Coverage of the world of film festivals on the international film festival circuit.


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