The U.S. versus John Lennon

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Included in archival footage and present-day interviews are: John Lennon himself, Tariq Ali, Carl Bernstein, Noam Chomsky, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, Angela Davis, John Dean, George Harrison, Abbie Hoffman, G. Gordon Liddy, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, Gore Vidal and others.

The following reviews are from the Internet Movie Data Base ( the largest single online repository of descriptions and reviews of virtually every film publicly released from the early 20th century to the present day.
THE U.S. VERSUS JOHN LENNON is a riveting documentary that shows how the judicial and immigration system works in the U.S. Lennon was placed under the microscope by President Nixon and by the F.B.I. during the early 19760's because [they believed that] he posed as a threat to Nixon's political campaign [for re-election in 1972] and an intense influence on the youth of America as a rsult of his music and iconoclastic image. Bottom line: the film focuses on Lennon's activism as well as the controversial and gray aspects of the meaning of activism and dissent. Director David Leaf interweaves Lennon's music within the documentary wih a collage of images...The core participants and leaders of the late-1960's and early 1970's are presented in the film, such as John Sinclair, Angela Davis, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard M. Nixon, and various writers and journalists... Within Leaf's documentary is the past, but the political atmosphere of the present appears to parallel or bear similarities to the past...
There are funny moments in the film as well as serious ones. But the film also presents the chilling aspects of the system of government and the powers that be... This film is highly recommended for all Lennon fans as well as those who would like to understand the relationship between music and politics. R. Del Parto, Virginia Beach, VA (11/24/06)

Some fans of John Lennon's music couldn't swallow what he eventually became. For such people, heart-throbbing memories of the 'loveable mop-top' didn't gel with the later scraggy haired peace activist. The [film] shows a reporter confronting Lennon on this very issue. She tells him outright that he should take a look at himself and suggests that he should be ashamed. Lennon tells her that he's 'all grown up,' and when she asks 'to what?' he answers simply, '29.'
That answr should perk brows. It's easy to forget that Lennon, a larger-than-life figure in life and in death, was rather young during the most controversial part of his life. Fresh from the break-up of the Beatles, the incomprehensibly famous twenty-something focused his energies on activism. His life as the 'intelligent Beatle' may have made him feel somewhat infallible and in some ways he was untouchable. The head-on clash he had with the U.S. government, documented in this film, probably bolstered that feeling. That he accomplished what he did at such a young age remains astonishing.

Anyone familiar with Lennon's career knows that he had a penchant for making bold statements. Some of these led to public outcry. After a brief overview of Lennon' childhood, the film shows the fallout from his 1966 'we're more popular than Jesus' statement. Beatle [record] bonfires, condemnation in the press , boycotts and defamation resulted. The band survived, of course. But that controversy failed to staple his tongue. Wih almost unprecedented candor for a rock star, Lennon began to speak out against the Vietnam War. One scene shows the Beatles poised press conference-style. An interviewer throws out a question about the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Most of the [other three in] the band look stifled, as if they don't want to say anything. Lennon's words then shatter the uncomfortable silence as he shows unmitigated support for America's anti-war protesters. [this, in 1966, was long before being against the war was a popular position, especially for a public figure to take] Such a well-known person speaking out probably didn't escape the notice of the United Staes government...

But Lennon's real political activities began in New York City following his late-60's marriage to avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. [His activism] dumped him in real hot water. The film follows the newly-weds during their 'bed-ins' in Amsterdam and Montreal [These were John and Yoko's own self-conscious ways to both protest the war and have the media cover their unique form of protest, while they kept the focus on the substance (the war), instead of the funny and self-deprecating style (their 'bed-in') - it was a hybrid of conceptual art, performance art and social protest] ... The United States wouldn't allow a New York City 'bed-in' due to previous drug charges [for pot planted on him]. After John and Yoko settled in New York City, Lennon became involved with outspoken Yippie! activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. He also played at a benefit concert for a jailed John Sinclair. The film mentions that Sinclair gave 'two joints to an undercover officer.' Next, Lennon started giving money to the Black Panther Party to help support their free school beakfast programs and organizing in the Black communiy. This undoubtedly put him right in the Nixon administration's spotlight. Shortly after, the F.B.I., then run by J./ Edgar Hoover, began tracking him. Not too long after that, the deportation papers arrived under the door. Thus began a long legal battle.

'The U.S. Versus John Lennon' gives a good general picture of Lennon's political activities in the 1970's,[ed. note: These political activities were not covered by the mass media at the time. There was virtually no alternative or independent media, ouiside of the Pacifica radio's tiny network of four stations, a few sporadic underground newspapers and a few small circulation national magazines (Ramparts, The Nation, I.F. Stone's Weekly, The Realist]. It effectively juxtaposes talking head interviews with historic footage from talk shows (notably Dick Cavett) and press conferences. No one should exit the theatre confused as to why the Nixon administration found Lennon a threat. . Overall, it is a deliciously entertaining and well-produced documentary.

...{the film] demonstrates why John Lennon remains a highly contoversial figure. He spoke for a fair section of his generation and put his fame to arguably good use. Like him or hate him, Lennon was no armchair celebrity. He outright challenged the Nixon adminstration while defying the public's stereotypes of fame. This film presents a side not often seen of the former Beatle, Some fans may wish to sweep this side under the carpet, but political activism will always remain a vital and undeniable part of John Lennon. - E. Womack, Minnesota (10/15/06)

In my opinion, John Lennon was the most significant poet in Engish in the second half of the 20th century his most important workm the songs of the early 1970's, when he fully realized his social/political conscience, lay down in simle, accessible and beautiful words, all the issues with which we must come to terms to survive as a humanity... The film, fifteen years in the making, inspiringly depicts the emergence and maturation of John's social voice and chronicles, without over-indulgence, the mos mpacting moments of John's pivotal (1969-73) period, which many, even among his contemporaries, missed or only got a partial view. The film is all the more educational for people comig of age in this [present] tumultuous era, who only know what John and his friends stood for only by songs they've heard in passing. John Lennon was, above all, a man of peace. As the film makes clear, he had other options. Th film, fortunately, is not a biographical referendum on John Lennon the man. Rather, it is moving testimony to the creativity and centrality of he message which he gave his all to deliver in large: Give Peace A Chance. - C. Vairag, Alan Hancock College (11/2/06)

Two other feature films have been made, both from the point-of-view of Lennon's assassin. The first, "The Killing of John Lennon" (2005), a low-budget feature, premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh International Film Festival. The more recent (2008) premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and opens in spring 2008, is entitled "Chapter 27." Neither film sheds any new light on the motivation of the assassin. Both films rehash the theory that the killer was another "lone psychopath: like the assassins of John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 and '68. For more on that issue, the out-of-print book "Who Killed John Lennon?" (St. Martin's Press, 1989) by British lawyer and investigative researcher Fenton Bresler is worth reading.