“Today’s generation really only knows three things about John Lennon,” said GW alum David Leaf in an interview Tuesday. “That he was a Beatle, that he wrote ‘Imagine’, and that he was shot.” Therein lies the appeal of his new documentary “The US vs. John Lennon,” which Leaf co-directed and produced with John Scheinfeld. The film details Lennon’s political activities in the U.S. during the late 1960s and 1970s, which ultimately led to a scandal to deport him that reached all the way to the Nixon White House. It offers a revealing glimpse into the life of this world famous musician, and portrays him as much more than a loveable mop top Beatle.
It is hard for a documentary not to be one-sided, and Leaf claims that both he and Scheinfeld were very conscious of this fact. Extensive footage of Vietnam, the 1968 Democratic Convention, and other landmark events of the decade give a clear frame of reference to the film, while interviews with Lennon’s friends, contemporaries and wife Yoko Ono expose the many facets of John’s immigration struggles. Leaf and Scheinfeld wanted viewers to “understand the times”, so that it wasn’t just a story of good versus evil. Indeed, among those interviewed was White House counsel John Dean, who was clearly apologetic about the lengths the Nixon administration took to deport Lennon. Leaf, who called Lennon a “natural leader,” says that the film was largely an effort to better comprehend a complex man: “We needed to understand..Why did he matter? Why did he question?”
Still, the documentary does gloss over a few unpleasant aspects of Lennon’s life. For instance, the infamous “Lost Weekend”, or the tumultuous year Lennon spent separated from Ono, is never mentioned, and his unruly early days in Liverpool and Hamburg are given the only the slightest significance. That, however, should not deter audiences from seeing this film. It is not just about John Lennon, or just about the 60s; rather, it presents them together, with Lennon in turn influencing and being influenced by the times. Curious viewers will get a more complete picture of John Lennon as a political activist, as an artist, and as a person-and will see it through the powerful and inquisitive context of the 60s.