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John and Yoko's Year of Peace

John and Yoko's Year of Peace
Image Entertainment
2000 / mostly b&w / 1:37 flat / 52 min. / Street Date September 17, 2002 / $19.99
Starring John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paul Levitan, Allan Rock, Mark Starowicz, Ritchie Yorke, John Brower, Al Capp, Abraham Feinberg, Timothy Leary, Pierre Trudeau
Produced by Alan Cysaght
Directed by Paul McGrath

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

There are lots of videos that recycle clips of rock stars like the Beatles or Elvis Presley, accompanied by new video testimonials from close buddies who assure us they had a mainline into the performer's soul. John and Yoko's Year of Peace is a unique look at a very narrow event in John Lennon's career, a 'bed-in' inspired by a press conference in the Amsterdam Hilton, that occured right at a turning point in his life - his marriage to Yoko Ono and his split from the Beatles. The show is almost solid quality Lennon content - much of it retained whole with minimal editing (a typical nullifier of so-called docus) - that gives us a very entertaining and pleasing portrait of the musician - poet - pacifist.


1969. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, just married, decide to dedicate a year of their lives to World Peace, setting themself up in a bed in a Montreal hotel room and inviting reporters, celebrities and dignitaries to see them. What was treated as a laughingstock in the press is remembered by almost everyone connected with it, as a sincere and honest attempt to publicize an alternative to war.

Consisting of mostly excellently preserved newsreel footage and excerpts from the film Bed-In made by John Lennon and Yoko Ono back during their year-long pacifist effort, John and Yoko's Year of Peace is a refreshing look at what has been called an early example of 'performance art', a heartfelt and genuine expression of idealism, and a naive publicity stunt.

With unflagging optimism, and wearing pajamas, John and Yoko receive practically anyone, with Yoko's daughter from a previous marriage, Kyoko, filling up coloring books on the side. What they mostly get are reporters eager to record the whimsical sight of the 'intellectual' Beatle as he makes small talk and patiently explains that he's doing nothing more radical than trying to use his celebrity to further a positive cause.

The visitors range from a 14 year old reviewer who brings an 8mm camera and gets a scoop over dozens of other newshounds because John likes the idea of the message getting into schools, to DJ Chuck Chandler, who broadcasts his rock'n roll show live from the hotel suite. All are on camera in recent interviews reminiscing about the bed-in, and their comments are uniformly praiseworthy (as opposed to fan-adoring) of Lennon's behavior and sincerity. In one choice bite, Lennon compares his hopes for his Year of Love with his attitude 'back in The Cavern', when he was certain he'd succeed as a rock'n roll star, even though he couldn't quite see how.

One of the main supporters was Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, who appeared with the Lennons on television and makes several nice statements. Others who happened to be in the neighborhood were Tommy Smothers and Timothy Leary. The main attraction, and the one played up by the press, was a visit from cartoonist Al Capp. His snide presumption that John and Yoko were somehow profiting from a crooked commie peacenik stunt comes across loud and clear, and he tries unsuccessfully to taunt John into a violent reaction (thus proving his pacifist ideals as false) by repeatedly calling Yoko, 'Madame Nhu'. Capp comes across as such a miscreant thug ("I draw cartoons for the money, just like you do what you do") that Savant can only imagine him in a fantasy arena match with Michael Moore.

John and Yoko's Year of Peace stays with its subject and follows the couple after the bed-in, with a concert performance (where, we are told, John realized he didn't need the Beatles any more), a failed rock festival promotion, a big 'War is Over' poster campaign, and a cute series of attempts to visit with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. A rock journalist who drives them around town (in Toronto?) in his Volkswagen relates the bizarre spectacle of 'Get Back' coming on the radio, and John getting excited and singing along from the back seat!

The coverage of the year concludes with a few words from Yoko admitting that they had aimed high but not that they had done wrong or acted foolishly. We then jump forward to John's murder, scarcely eleven years later, and Lennon's sweet idealism seems all the more valuable.

Previously, Savant had only seen brief clips of the bed-in and found this docu show from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (which owned much of the newsfilm) very informative. It perfectly compliments the images we were given by the American media, which used the Lennons' actions as an excuse to mock and belittle pacifists as idiotic extremists, repeatedly reminding us of John and Yoko's drug arrests and leftist leanings. The message on our side of the border was that War was Good, and the Lennons were long-haired, dirty atheists. It was an ugly time all around, and John and Yoko's Year of Peace doesn't cover the breadth of the events, preferring to stay with the Lennons. As the bed-in and Peace campaign was a minor sideshow of the time (was it really the huge event of the century, as claimed by the otherwise authoritative narration?) the simple & limited approach of this show works very well in context.

Image's DVD of John and Yoko's Year of Peace is nicely edited, and only suffers to the extent that a few seconds of its archival materials are not in top shape. We see Lennon & co. performing the hit single Give Peace a Chance, which really was recorded right there in the hotel room. This must have been a very accomodating hotel ...

There are no extras, which is a shame as some liner notes would have been welcome. A photo on the back, I believe, misidentifies Abraham Feinberg as Al Capp.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, John and Yoko's Year of Peace rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 15, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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