If the reaction of the audience tells you anything about the quality of a film, and I think it does, than The U.S. Versus John Lennon is, by far, among the best documentaries to come along in a long time. In a small theatre, on Superbowl Sunday, in Ojai, a town eighty miles north of, one that was decked out in American flags and "Bush / Cheney" bumper stickers weeks after 9/ll, the disgust with the Iraq war, and the misadventures of the Bush years was palpable,and electrifying.
"Declare Peace," John Lennon's words, some forty years ago right after our last major occupation of Vietnam, still resonate. His and Yoko's bed-in is as poignant, and relevant now as it was nearly thirty years ago. You'd think we'd have learned by now, wouldn't you? You'd think, as Lennon was later to say at a press conference, "Time wounds all heals." But, there are some wounds even time can't heal like the gaping one left by the echo of bullets that rang out on a curiously sunny, and spineless December day, twenty six years ago, in front of an apartment building in Manhattan, a horror even the neighborhood rats have yet to process.
Time may not heal, but art will, and if you don't believe that, and if you've yet to see The U.S. versus John Lennon, a riveting documentary, do yourself a favor and go see it. Especially for those of us who think comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are exaggerated, or thought so at one time. The rhetoric, the distortion, the recipe for disaster has deja vu written all over it.
If you haven't yet, go see it, take your grandchildren, if only to be amazed at how prescient and way ahead of his time Lennon was; if only to confirm that no, it wasn't the dope, he really said and wrote some astonishing things, if only to hear Jerry Rubin, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Gore Vidal, Walter Chronkite, and others; if only to be convinced that we're out of spin cycle, and heading back to soak.
"I'm an artist, not a politician," declared John Lennon, and vision is seldom bullet-proof. Those who choose peace, and unity do so at their own peril as is abundantly clear when listening to retired FBI agents, under Nixon, talk about their ongoing surveillance of Lennon, how his phone was being tapped, all sadly reminiscent of what is going on in America today.
"Patriotism is the great refuge of scoundrels," Gore Vidal says, and Richard Nixon didn't have a patent on being a scoundrel. The exploits of the FBI, in the 1970's, pale by comparison with the current high tech data mining campaigns of the CIA and NSA. Indeed, it is even more true today--when you see a flag, duck.
And, as Yoko simply, and eloquently, tells us, in the end, "They tried to kill John, but they didn't. He's still alive, his message is still with us today." Now, all we need to do is deserve to hear it again, and again, so that maybe someday, it will sink in.