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January 19, 2013

Movie Review: Inside John Lennon (2003)

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

How can you properly do a biography on one of the 20th Century's most complex artists in the space of 46 minutes, with a handful of talking heads interviews, grotty newsreel footage everyone has seen a million times and without the money to play any of his timeless compositions? The answer: You can't. Inside John Lennon is a right bloody rubbish documentary lacking the wherewithal to do its subject justice. Reminiscent of cable TV's E! Documentaries, the paltry resources can't begin to map a highly significant time in popular culture, and does its subject no favors. The only value that Inside John Lennon may have are young people who have no idea that there was a thriving popular music long before Justin Bieber.

To whit: John Lennon was born in Great Britain in the throes of World War II. Abandoned by his military father, the young Lennon was rescued from his flighty, irresponsible mom by a stern maiden aunt. He showed a propensity for the arts at a young age, and began playing in local Liverpool bands as a teenager. A set of circumstances led him to form The Beatles with best pal Paul McCartney, and guided by gay impresario Brian Epstein, the band would redefine popular music and popular culture forever and ever. All things must come to an end, and Lennon and his band mates – McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would leave on rancorous terms.

The villainess in this drama, Japanese performance artist Yoko Ono, Lennon's second wife, is believed to have been the one who drove the stake through the band's heart. Lennon, perhaps tiring of being under the gun to come up with dance music for teenagers, embraced Ono's sly minimalism – staying in bed “for peace,” assembling a broken teacup to unite nations, etc. to say profound things with little effort. Lennon would continue to record music and perform, his last album Double Fantasy with Ono being released to scornful notices – until he was felled by ultimate Bealtlemaniac Mark David Chapman outside the Dakota Apartment building.

Inside John Lennon reiterates all the cliches associated with Lennon's life and times: he did not engage in a gay affair with Epstein to further his own ends, dammit, with Lennon himself beating an old sot to the inch of his life for implying as such. Doth the lady Protest Too Much? The interview subjects presented in the documentary, with the exception of Apple General manager Alistair Taylor, are from Lennon's early life, such as the Beatles' first manager Allan Williams, members of the original Quarry Men and the Beatles' chauffeur Alf Bicknell. The most notable interview subject is Lennon’s own sister, Julia Baird, who confesses she didn't hear from him for an entire seven years at one point.

Tied together by a narrator and battered newsreel footage, Inside John Lennon fails like the majority of biographies on artists with far more at their disposal; focusing on who did what to whom, and not what drove the subject to create. If you don't know who the Beatles were – and there are a few of you out there, and need an introduction to their intellectual leader, this disc may have some fleeting worth. Everyone else can safely skip it.

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