Sunday, February 04, 2007

"The U.S. versus John Lennon"

If the reaction of the audience tells you anything about the quality of a film, and I think it does, then "The U.S. Versus John Lennon" is, by far, among the best documentaries to come along in a long time.

On Superbowl Sunday, in a small movie theatre in Ojai, a town eighty miles northwest of Los Angeles, on rural main street America that was among the last on its block to stubbornly display Old Glory, as well as the requisite "Bush / Cheney" bumper stickers for years after 9/ll, the disgust with the Iraq war, and the misadventures of the Bush years filled the auditorium; it was palpable; it was electrifying.

"Declare Peace," John Lennon's words, some forty years ago, right after the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, still resonate. His and Yoko's bed-in as poignant, and relevant now as it was then. 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 children, or 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. gadgetry and data mining campaigns of our modern day CIA and NSA. Indeed, it is even more true now than ever before: when you see a flag, duck!

As Yoko simply, and eloquently, tells us, in the end, "They tried to kill John, but they didn't. He's still with us today." He's still with us as we want to howl: "Declare Peace" to another administration bent on destruction. Now, all we need to do is hear those words again, and again, in the hopes that sometime soon, they will sink in.