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The U.S. vs. John Lennon

History seems to repeat itself. This documentary about the late John Lennon and his anti-war attitude becomes a commentary on today's government.


It's been a long time since John Lennon was gunned down in front of apartment building in New York City, and even longer since Richard Nixon held office, but U.S. vs. John Lennon focuses on how the then U.S. president tried to pull out all stops to discredit the famous Beatle and get him thrown out of the country. Ironically, although three decades old, this story seems like a fairly timely indictment on the Bush administration, as it looks at how right-wing fanatics label anti-war protestors as un-American even though free speech is what this country is founded on, as Lennon points out. Nixon's henchman, J. Edgar Hoover, tried drumming up all sorts of smut on Lennon. He and Yoko Ono were bugged, followed, threatened and nearly deported. Along the way, Lennon became a bit paranoid and myopic, even as he was opening his life to the press and offering interviews while in bed.


Some of the more important pundits during the Vietnam War era are trotted out to give some perspective. Injured war veteran Ron Kovic, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, protestor Angela Davis, writer Gore Vidal and a mellow Bobby Seale are among those who talk about what the world was like in the 1970s, the end of the hippie era and the crackdown by the government. For the conservative side, the only voice heard is G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon"s former White House staff, who comes across as creepy and unsympathetic and even criticizes the Kent State shooting victims as students who got in the way and should have known what was coming. Some of the most fascinating moments are the footage from Ono"s private vault, showing Lennon as a passionate and often angry guy who was alternately confused and amused by anger directed at him for preaching peace.


Filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld offer a very biased viewpoint, as they play heavily on the anti-war images and how it is relevant today. They don"t really explore any of Lennon's troubles with the break-up of the Beatles, or the criticism of Ono, which were going on around the same time. No, U.S. vs. John Lennon is about one thing and one thing only: Lennon"s public fight to keep his visa and remain in the U.S., while exercising his right to protest. The documentary is illuminating, timely and almost as frightening as Al Gore's global warming Inconvenient Truth. There"s Lennon on the Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas shows, as well as footage of the ex-Beatle being attacked by a reporter, which he handled with a bemused calmness. Although it isn't as dire, or as apocalyptic, U.S. vs. John Lennon is just as important. Lennon ultimately did give peace a chance.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.