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- Posted on Oct 5th 2010 3:30PM by David Chiu
Bob Gruen / www.BobGruen.com
The bond between Lennon and New York is explored in the new film, which was written produced and directed by Michael Epstein. 'LENNONYC' will be shown at a free public screening in New York's Central Park this Saturday, Oct. 9, which would have been Lennon's 70th birthday, prior to its PBS' 'American Masters' series airing on Nov. 22.
Director Epstein tells Spinner that the idea of the film came when Lennon's birthday was approaching. "I had always thought of John as a New Yorker," he says. "He kind of embodied for me New York. I felt that with his 70th birthday coming up that New York was the right lens to use to look at his life, to look at his solo life. I didn't want to go back and unpack the Beatles again because it had been done a billion times and I don't think there's anything fresh to mine in there."
Epstein thinks that Lennon was not only a political or artistic refugee, but "a refugee in his love as well with Yoko, that London was not a tenable place for them and their relationship was just simply never going to be accepted in England."
The film touches on the major aspects of Lennon's life after the Beatles: his political activism; his run-in with US Immigration, who wanted to deport him; the "Lost Weekend" period during when he was briefly estranged from Ono; and Lennon becoming a stay-at-home father for his son Sean. The film features footage of Lennon live onstage at the 1972 "One to One" concert in Madison Square Garden as well as previously unreleased music. In addition to Ono, 'LENNONYC' also contains interviews with producer Jack Douglas, photographer Bob Gruen, who took the famous photo of Lennon wearing a New York City T-shirt, Elton John and others.
One of the things that knocked Epstein out was a piece of studio dialogue at New York studio the Record Plant where Lennon was recording the 'Double Fantasy' album. "They're doing 'I'm Stepping Out' and he's ordering sushi," he says. "And I just thought, 'Oh my God! I love this man.' You first of all get so much intimacy with John, but you hear how funny he is and you're like, 'I'm there,' so that became the voice of the film."
Epstein also says that some of the film's archival material even caught Ono by surprise, such as Lennon's 1974 appearance on New York rock station WNEW-FM in which he played the Beatles' 'Day Tripper.' "Seriously, when Yoko screened the film and that section came up, she made us stop. She was like, 'Who is this guy and where is this recording? I've never heard this before. I didn't even know John did this.'"
Among the most poignant moments of the documentary is the footage of Lennon raising Sean, then a toddler. "I thought, 'Oh my God, he's just a dad and he's so genuinely at peace,'" Epstein explains, "in a way that the Beatles or fame or having a No. 1 record never brought him. It completed the picture and that's what made 'Double Fantasy' [Lennon's last album released before his death in 1980] so brutal. You know he didn't plan that to be his last act."
Epstein didn't want to speak for Ono's personal reaction to the film but expressed his appreciation for her assistance. "In a million different ways," he says, "the film never could have gotten done without her and she didn't have any editorial say in it. We made the film we wanted to make."
The director added that he hopes 'LENNONYC' will add to the artist's legacy and make people go back and listen to his music "in a way that they hadn't heard before because his music is so personal. The more you know about the life he lived, [in] some ways, the better his music becomes."