The compelling and provocative story of John Lennon's evolution from beloved Beatle to outspoken artist and activist to iconic inspiration for peace, and how, in the midst of one of the most tumultuous times in American history, Lennon stood his ground, refused to be silenced and courageously won his battle with the U.S. Government.
In retrospect, it seems absurd that the United States government felt so threatened by the presence of John Lennon that they tried to have him deported. But that's what happened, as chronicled in directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's The U.S. vs. John Lennon
. The film starts slowly, with a familiar look at the former Beatle's troubled childhood, his outspokenness as one of the Fabs ("We're more popular now than Jesus Christ," etc.), and his eventual hookup with Yoko Ono, paralleled by the growth of political protest in '60s America, particularly against the Vietnam War. John and Yoko went on to stage their own peaceful demonstrations, like the Canadian "bed-ins," but these were largely harmless media stunts. It was when the Lennons moved to New York in the early '70s and took a more active role in the anti-war movement, making friends with radicals like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale, that the government got interested--and paranoid--and men like President Richard Nixon, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and right-wing Sen. Strom Thurmond began actively looking for ways to silence him (it was Thurmond who came up with the deportation idea). That's also when the film picks up. An array of talking heads weighs in, ranging from Ono and others sympathetic to Lennon's plight (Walter Cronkite, Sen. George McGovern, even Geraldo Rivera) to those on the other side, including Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy. Though The U.S. vs. John Lennon
is hardly impartial, it's safe to say that although Lennon was more an idealist than an activist, he was an influential celebrity whom Nixon viewed as a potential nuisance in an election year. And even once Nixon had won the '72 presidential race, the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to drop its case. Why? "Anybody who sings about love, and harmony, and life, is dangerous to somebody who sings about death," says author Gore Vidal. "Lennon... was a born enemy of the U.S. He was everything they hated." For music fans, Lennon's solo recordings provide the soundtrack. The DVD also contains considerable additional documentary footage. --Sam Graham