Synopsis: Imagine: John Lennon comes from a treasure trove: the legendary musician’s own collection of more than 240 hours of film and videotape, much of it never seen by the public. With cooperation from Yoko Ono in its creation, producers David L. Wolper and Andrew Solt (partners on This Is Elvis) transform the archival footage – and a monumental 36-tune soundtrack – into a spellbinding account of a complex, fascinating man. Lennon’s own voice narrates “a classic film biography”
Imagine: John Lennon 8.25
eyelights: the seemingly honest tone of piece.
eyesores: its brevity.
“I always was a rebel… but on the other hand, I wanted to be loved and accepted by all facets of society and not be this loud-mouthed lunatic, poet, musician. But I cannot be what I’m not.”
I can’t say that I was much of a John Lennon fan when I first saw this documentary, some 15 years ago. I liked a little of his solo stuff, certainly, but my favourite Beatle was Paul; I thought that he was more melodic.
This changed over time after I listened to the soundtrack to ‘Imagine: John Lennon’. While a sizeable chunk of it was from his Beatles years, there were a number of solo tunes on it, too. I didn’t “get” them at first, and even cut a few tracks so that I could fit the album on a 60 minute tape that I copied it to.
But, with time, I started to dig what he was saying. I already knew “Imagine”, of course, and will always adore that one, but I was finally starting to understand the angst in “Mother” more, the questions in “God”, the admissions of “Jealous Guy”, and even the awe and serenity of “Woman” and “Beautiful Boy”.
By the time that I saw the documentary, I was quite ripe for the picking: the music wasn’t nearly as jarring to me by then so I could focus on discovering the life of the man – at least in brief, which is what ‘Imagine: John Lennon’ does (how can one resume a whole person’s life in about 90 minutes, really?).
I discovered in John Lennon a confident but damaged man: while he had the ability to hide behind his youthful jests, we discover that he had been deeply wounded by the loss of his mother – twice, actually. He was looking for something to fill the void and not even The Beatles could play that role.
We also discover an imperfect man who is so eager for connection, who wants so deeply to be at one with another, that he turns his back on some of the closest people around him when the opportunity comes – he wasn’t entirely selfless. For instance, even though he lost his mother, he subjected his own son Julian to a similar loss.
And that’s part of what makes ‘Imagine: John Lennon’ so fascinating: even though it is brief and it provides a mere glance at John Lennon, it manages to provide what appears to be a relatively honest portrayal of the person behind the icon. Even though it is an authorized film, it doesn’t gloss everything over.
…which is quite impressive, when you think about it: Yoko Ono has had total control over all of Lennon’s affairs since his untimely death, and many have stated that she is extremely controlling of the empire she built around him. However, she allowed the film to be made somewhat independently, backed by countless hours of stock footage.
One thing that needs to be noted is that Lennon and Ono had cameras filming their lives almost incessantly. At first, it seemed forced, if not staged, when we see Lennon speak to a vagrant youth on his property and then invite him in for a bite to eat. All I could wonder is: why would anyone film their own acts of charity? To validate themselves?
Still, it was a terrific moment. Although Lennon had someone keeping watch the whole time, presumably for security, he stepped down from his pedestal to talk to this lad person-to-person. Not a lot of celebrities would be that down-to-earth, I suspect. Having said that, Lennon also seemed to vacillate frequently between his self-importance and his humility.
It’s because of this that we get the sense that Yoko Ono and their son Sean are outsiders of sorts on this project – that they offered their recollections on camera (as do tons of others) but that they otherwise allowed the filmmakers to have free reign over their film. Because of this, we see many sides of John Lennon – it’s a tribute to a human being as well as a pop celebrity.
And this may very well be why there hasn’t been another film like ‘Imagine: John Lennon’ since it was first released some 25 years ago. It may not be especially thorough, but it feels as accurate as something like this could ever get. There’s certainly more to the John Lennon, but we got as much as it is ever possible to hope for in less than two hours.
Basically, we were given some truth. And I imagine that it’s exactly what Lennon would have wanted.
“Don’t confuse the songs with your own life. I mean, they might have relevance to your own life, you know, but a lot of things do. And so we’ve met, you know? I’m just a guy, man, who writes songs.”
Date of viewing: December 8, 2012