Directed by: David Leaf and John Scheinfeld
Premise: A documentary film about John Lennon, focusing on his post-Beatles career and his work as an activist in opposition to the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration.
What Works: The U.S. vs. John Lennon uses archival footage and interviews with Lennon’s friends and foes to create a portrait of the man and his work. The film’s focus on this particular span of Lennon’s career allows for the film to analyze how a pop artist can function politically and maintain his artistic integrity. The documentary is extremely entertaining, following basic storytelling principles to create a film that is not just a collection of information, but a dramatic narrative that has its emotional ups and downs. The conflict between Lennon and the Nixon administration is well drawn and contextualized in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s and the Vietnam War. This gives a sense of Lennon’s impact on the entire culture of America and the sets the stakes for which Lennon was fighting, raising it above two figures snipping at each other in the press.
What Doesn’t: The film mostly ignores Lennon’s musical work in this period of his life, preferring instead to dwell on his use of celebrity to bring awareness to social justice issues. While this is interesting, it sometimes feels as though the film gets away from what made Lennon great in the first place.
DVD extras: Bonus footage, trailer.
Bottom Line: The U.S. vs. John Lennon is an effective documentary, paralleling our own political and artistic environment. Like Inside Deep Throat, this documentary is able to successfully and entertainingly analyze how art and politics interact and sometimes collide. The film is also an inspirational tribute, showing that popular artists can produce meaningful work if they would simply try.
Episode: #133 (March 18, 2007)