Written by Diane Tillis
Countless documentaries and dramas chronicle the life of John Lennon. They make each film unique from all the others by taking different approaches, use different archival materials, or new first-hand interviews. LENNON NYC explores a time in Lennon’s life that is rarely exposed. It focuses on Lennon’s life in New York City from 1971 to his death in 1980.
In 1971, after the breakup of The Beatles, John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono moved to New York City. The nine years Lennon spent in the city was a time for him to focus on family. While he did create some of the most acclaimed songs and albums of his career, Lennon wanted to be a proper father to his young son, Sean. A strong icon in the count-culture movement, Lennon was very active in anti-war protests and other political causes.
As New York made an impact on Lennon and Ono, they made an impact on the city. New York presented the opportunity for their personal and creative freedom. They were able to travel around the city like one of the natives, without fear that crowds would hover over their every move. While the city was on the verge of collapse due to high crime rates and economic fallout, Lennon and Ono did their part to support the city. They visited neighborhood restaurants, Central Park, attended sport events, and political demonstrations. They bonded with fellow immigrants over shared experiences. Lennon had a difficult time against the threat of deportation. He claimed that the Nixon administration tried to deport him in response to his anti-war protests and political songwriting.
As a documentary, LENNON NYC is a combination of new interviews, archival materials, and still photographs. The new interviews are bright and sharp. The archival materials have some degree of damage such as scratches and dirt. Overall, they are as clean as possible, and are not too distracting. The still photos compliment the interviews and archival materials.
LENNON NYC features never-before-heard studio recordings from the Double Fantasy sessions. It also presents never-before-seen outtakes from Lennon in concert. Personal home videos display Lennon as a normal, everyday, husband and father. LENNON NYC features exclusive interviews with Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. She provides a full-access look to her life in New York and her last years with Lennon. Ono discusses some painfully personal stories, such as Lennon’s “lost weekend” and their marital separation. Several artists who worked closely with Lennon in the 1970s, such as Elton John and photographer Bob Gruen, talk of their fond memories with the rock star.
For someone who knows very little about John Lennon, LENNON NYC provides a well-rounded and tender approach towards documenting his last years. I cannot speak as to whether this is the best documentary film about Lennon, since this is the only one I have ever seen. However, I can say that I really enjoyed LENNON NYC. I think any fan of Lennon’s would love to have this film in their collection. LENNON NYC manages to transform Lennon from a well-known rock star icon into a flesh-and-blood human being, who desires the same qualities from life as any other person.