Film review: 'Lennon' a bit impersonal

Published: Friday, Oct. 13 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON — ** 1/2 — Documentary feature about musician John Lennon's activist activities; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, drugs, vulgarity, brief gore).

The best moments in the documentary "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" come when the late musician — seen here in archival footage — shares his views on life, love and various other subjects.

The problems come when others in the movie try to put words in Lennon's mouth, or at least attempt to interpret some of his writings and comments. (Among the offending parties are author Gore Vidal and journalist Geraldo Rivera, who aren't exactly credible even when they speak for themselves.)

As a result, the film is not completely satisfying, though it's probably required viewing for anyone who considers himself a fan of the man and his music.

David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's film examines Lennon's personal growth and evolution, showing how he changed his personal focus from musician to antiwar activist.

Neither of his surviving Beatles bandmates, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, is interviewed (though they, and the late George Harrison, are briefly seen performing). And there's limited commentary from his second wife and frequent collaborator Yoko Ono, which seems odd.

Instead, the filmmakers interview several of Lennon's activist friends, including members of the Black Panther Party and Ron Kovic. While a few of their insights are appreciated, the film feels a little impersonal and superficial because of that.

One of the more interesting tidbits comes from conservative pundit G. Gordon Liddy, who talks about how Lennon was perceived as a threat to the Nixon administration. And the segment with Tommy Smothers is so fascinating you almost wish the filmmakers had spent more time with him.

"The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is rated PG-13 for violent content (including newsreel footage of rioting and warfare), occasional profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), drug content (mostly references), suggestive language (song lyrics and slang) and gory imagery. Running time: 96 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com