Just in time to celebrate and commemorate John Lennon – who would have turned 70 this October, two new films – one doc, one fiction – one for TV (American Masters on PBS) one for the big screen – focusing on the life and times of John Lennon – one about his early years, one about his final years – are being released.
This year, New York Film Festival premiered Michael Epstein’s documentary LENNONNYC and New York’s art house circuit saw the premiere of NOWHERE BOY by British visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood.
Taylor-Wood’s fiction film focuses on Lennon’s first steps into the world of music and offers some insights into his upbringing in Liverpool, his relationship with his aunt Mimi, the reunion with his mother, her sudden passing, his first meeting with Paul McCartney and the beginnings of their musical friendship all the way to their first trip to Hamburg. Epstein’s documentary on the other hand shines light upon Lennon’s time in New York: his political activism, his struggle with the immigration authorities to stay in the city he loved, the break up and reunion with his wife Yoko Ono, the birth of his son Sean, the return to the studio to record DOUBLE FANTASY in 1980, and his untimely sudden death- which Epstein does not dwell upon, but elegantly addresses and then moves on to focus on the legacy of this singular artist and musician.
Using extensive archival material, Epstein provides a thorough socio-political context by linking Lennon’s life to the overall currents of the time, thus illuminates the private and the public John Lennon. Closely collaborating with Epstein, Yoko Ono opened up her archives and allowed Epstein to draw from audio tapes made during the recording of his last album.
True fans of John Lennon may already know all about this chapter in Lennon’s life – but even if one does, the thorough research and rich use of archival footage make watching this engaging documentary well worth.
Likewise, even if some poetic licenses were taken, Sam Taylor-Wood’s fiction work is a cinematic feast. A visual artist herself, Taylor-Woods knows how to frame and create images, with little to no extraneous additions: Lennon walking past a brick wall – Lennon and McCartney lying on top of a bus – Lennon putting on his glasses – all images that pull you in and draw attention to the scene. Taylor-Wood’s casting choices are also to be commended: Kristen Scott-Thomas as Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as John’s mother Julia offer eye-catching, strong performances that capture the frame. And Aaron Johnson’s delivery is refined and nuanced as the young John Lennon searching, finding and defining his unique place in this world.
NOWHERE BOY is currently playing at a theater near you.