No matter what side of the fence you're on, war often divides a nation right down the middle. Whether you're actively against it, you're fighting in it or you simply have a magnetic ribbon on your car, rarely are people silent about their opinions on the matter. While America's current Middle Eastern situation has made its people grow restless with each passing week, the Vietnam War caused an even larger public uproar roughly four decades ago. Without an event like 9/11 to bolster patriotism, the violent Southeast Asian conflict started unpopular and grew even more so.
As much as current music artists have attempted to shoehorn their opinions of war into catchy songs (here's looking at you, Bono), they obviously weren't the first to do so. Neither was John Lennon, of course, but his popularity-powered push for peace during the Vietnam era was certainly well documented. As The Beatles gradually went their separate ways, Lennon---accompanied by Yoko Ono, of course---continued his non-violent protest against the war from the late 1960's onward. From media populated bed-ins to concert performances, it's no wonder that controversy and public attention followed the rebellious Lennon during such a troublesome time.
Featuring newly-recorded interviews and vintage clips from the era, The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006) reminds us that the late legend actually believed in the cause he supported. During this new documentary, we hear from folks on both sides of the fence, including widow Yoko Ono Lennon, former Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, Walter Cronkite, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, former Nixon administration official G. Gordon Liddy, former U.S. Senator George McGovern, Geraldo Rivera, historian Gore Vidal and other political activists and underground journalists. The older footage is equally provocative, ranging from concert performances to Lennon's quick-witted bouts with detractors. All things considered, it's an irresistible story told with skill and great detail.
Die-hard Lennon fans may balk at certain comments made by Ono, however: as depicted in the documentary, her arrival into Lennon's life is trumpeted like The Second Coming. There's no doubt that she changed him more than any woman in his life, but it's still hard to shake the cynicism since The U.S. vs. John Lennon is told largely from her perspective. Additionally, his first son, Julian---born to John's first wife, Cynthia---is all but swept under the rug, only mentioned passively in a deleted scene. It's common knowledge that Julian was never very close to his father (or Ono, obviously), but it's hard to believe he didn't warrant a mention during the main feature.
Still, The U.S. vs. John Lennon remains largely focused from start to finish. From the early backlash of John's "bigger than Jesus" remark to the controversy surrounding Nixon's administration, it's a gripping story of David vs. Goliath that ends on a bittersweet note. Additionally, this anti-war film is obviously meant to draw broad parallels to the current American invasion of Iraq, which it manages to do on several occasions. Make no mistake about it: The U.S. vs. John Lennon has been designed to prompt changes from the ground up---and even though it's been over 26 years since Lennon's death, it's obvious that his dreams of peace haven't been snuffed out.
Presented on DVD by Lionsgate, this solid one-disc package should please those who didn't catch The U.S. vs. John Lennon in theaters. The main feature has been granted a strong technical presentation, while a small but mighty assortment of bonus material only enhances its message. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, The U.S. vs. John Lennon looks quite good from start to finish. Obviously, the collection of vintage news clips and performances is a bit rough in contrast with the newly-recorded interviews, but everything comes together nicely. Only two minor drawbacks are present: the vintage clips originally shot in 1.33:1 have been cropped, while certain segments suffer from slight digital combing. Still, it's a quality visual presentation that documentary fans should enjoy.
The audio is just as pleasing, available in your choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes. Surround activity is obviously reserved for concert footage and the like, while dialogue old and new comes through clearly. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the animated menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 96-minute main feature has been divided into a generous 24 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a white keecase with a handsome embossed slipcover, while no inserts have been included.
Included here is a collection of Bonus Footage (10 clips, 54:07 total), including "Becoming John Lennon", "Power to the People", "Dissent vs. Disloyalty", "Then & Now", "Walter Cronkite Meets the Beatles", The "Two Virgins" Album Cover", "Sometime in New York", "Imagine", "The One to One Benefit Concert" and "Yoko Ono Lennon's Letter to the Parole Board". Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, these deleted scenes cover topics such as John Lennon's early years, his final rehearsed concert, the controversial song "Woman is the Nigger of the World" and the unsuccessful 2000 parole hearing of Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman. It's a fine collection of additional interviews and vintage clips that fans should enjoy, though it's easy to see why some were trimmed from the final cut.
Also on board is the film's excellent Theatrical Trailer (2:09), as well as a Text Interview with John and Yoko available as a DVD-ROM supplement. Though the amount of bonus material may seem light, the care with which it's been presented is certainly evident. Outside of an audio commentary, we couldn't ask for much more.
It doesn't always tread through new territory, but The U.S. vs. John Lennon pairs a solid collection of footage with plenty of interesting interviews. Though it's obvious that this documentary is weighted towards Ono's perspective, the unfair treatment of both artists by the media and government is even more evident. The DVD package by Lionsgate treats the main feature with respect, while a strong assortment of bonus footage adds several layers to the story. Overall, The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a well-rounded release that fans of the late legend will enjoy. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.