THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON
Directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld (2006), 99 minutes
The threat of deportation was the weapon of choice used by the Nixon Administration to attempt to silence on of its most vociferous critics, ex-Beatle John Lennon. The battle which was waged over several years between Lennon and the U.S. government is described in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld and produced by VH1 and Lionsgate. The film not only explores Lennons deportation fight but also looks at his life during the period 1966-1976, highlighting his role in the Vietnam War protest movement.
Previously unforeseen footage of Lennons public appearances is shown, ranging from his mocking bed-ins and press conference wrapped in a bed sheet to a concert in Ann Arbor in 1971 in support of John Sinclair, a musician given a 10-year sentence for selling two joints to an undercover policeman. While the film features reminiscences of Lennons early life and how he came to be a rebel against the establishment, it does not discuss his relationship with Paul McCartney, the breakup of the Beatles, or his stormy personal life.
Over thirty interviews are also included with supporters that range from Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, author Gore Vidal, radical spokespersons Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis, writer Paul Krassner, to Senator George McGovern, Governor Mario Cuomo, and commentators Walter Cronkite and Giraldo Rivera. The other side is represented by G. Gordon Libby, famous for his role in the Watergate affair and former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover. Opening in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson had just ordered additional troops to fight in Vietnam, the film shows how a casual reference by John Lennon that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus set off a storm of protest in the U.S., mostly by Christian groups.
Lennon became an even more controversial figure when his song Give Peace a Chance became the rallying cry for the growing anti-war movement and was sung at a peace demonstration in Washington DC in 1969 that attracted over a million participants. Determined to use his power as a superstar to help end the war, Lennon became involved with Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, radicals Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin but maintained his adherence to non-violence. It was these friendships, however, that supposedly led to the government putting him under close surveillance. Wiretaps were soon followed by an order for his deportation, a tactic that had been suggested by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and was supported by Watergate brethren Mitchell, Halderman, and Ehrlichman.
The governments case was made stronger by Lennons conviction in 1968 for moral turpitude because of marijuana found in his house by the police, which Lennon claims was planted. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is an unabashedly liberal documentary that is perhaps overly simplistic in its canonization of Saint John but nonetheless is a powerful reminder of the lunacy of the Vietnam War and the strength and courage of one man who made a difference. John Lennons assassination in 1980 evoked worldwide shock and outrage and the film is a worthy tribute to the man and his music, even though there are many depths still to explore.