Film Review: LENNONYC directed by Michael Epstein (2010)


Documentary films on John Lennon have always fallen flat for me as they tend to focus heavily on the more controversial aspects of his life whilst ultimately concluding with over-dramatic portrayals of his death. The scene near the end of the 1988 film Imagine showing Lennon’s glasses slowly falling before ultimately crashing into the ground and breaking into pieces while the famous final piano chord in “A Day in the Life” plays in the background is a case in point. However, the 2010 film LENNONYC does none of this and is hands down the best documentary I have seen on Lennon.

LENNONYC looks specifically at Lennon’s time in New York between 1971 and 1980, exploring all the key moments of his time there including his activism and political activity, the recording of albums such as Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy, his Lost Weekend in LA, and the raising of his son Sean. What struck me about this film is that everything is explored with balance and without sensationalist ideas or hero worshiping which often comes with documentaries on musicians. The film does an attentive job in allowing for a fair representation of Lennon to emerge with both his good and bad attributes acknowledged fairly. The film pays homage to his political activism and the role he played in the anti-war movement, but it also acknowledges his often violent temper, womanizing tendencies, and alcoholism. Part of this is helped by the quality of interviewees on display of which all were involved in Lennon’s life at some stage during his time in New York. These are the people who knew him the best and are in the best position to comment on his life during the seventies as they experienced it with him. The appearance of the people closest to Lennon including musicians, record producers, friends and of course Yoko comes as a welcome relief from annoying narrators and know it all rock writers who can often come to dominate documentaries on musical subjects.

Utilising some great archival footage including photographs and film many of which had not been seen before, as well as new interviews, LENNONYC is very well put together and is extremely insightful as it explores an often overlooked period in Lennon’s life. Yes many things from this period have been explored in detail such as the American government’s attempt to deport him, but as a whole this period has tended to be neglected, with this film being the first that I can think of that has given full attention to this wonderfully diverse and fascinating period in Lennon’s life. LENNONYC goes into more breadth and depth than any other film on John Lennon has managed to do, and at two hours long it is fair to say everything that needed to be examined is done so in detail. A highly interesting and thoroughly enjoyable music documentary on what is a fascinating story of a fascinating man.  
– Sam

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