John Lennon’s passionate attachment to New York City during the last years of his life is among the themes of LENNONYC, a new PBS doc that will debut Nov. 22 as part of the public broadcaster’s American Masters series. Amy Dawes caught Yoko Ono’s introduction at the television critics association press tour in Beverly Hills.
“It’s about New York, the city that he was in love with. And strangely, the city that he loved so much that it killed him,” said Yoko Ono. “That’s what can happen in a love story. But I didn’t know that was going to happen, and John didn’t either.”
Ono also addressed the upcoming parole review hearing in New York State of Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, who fatally shot the former Beatle outside the Dakota apartment building on Dec. 8, 1980. “Oh God,” she said, wiping away tears. That’s a very difficult question to answer.” In continuing to oppose Chapman’s release, she said, she believes she is being “practical,” adding that Chapman might still pose a danger to her, to Lennon’s sons Sean and Julian, and perhaps even to himself.
Ono is in the midst of launching a number of high-profile endeavors related to Lennon’s legacy – tied to what would have been his 70th birthday, in October – 30 years after he was slain – as well as to her own music. Those projects also include a massive EMI Records boxed set that includes remasters of eight of Lennon’s solo albums, and just-announced concerts in Los Angeles by the Plastic Ono Band, to include Ono, son Sean, and special guests. Those shows, a reprise of similar concerts in New York, will take place Oct. 1 and 2 at L.A.’s historic Orpheum Theater downtown.
If there is a commercial impetus for these ventures, Ono did not acknowledge it. Instead she steadfastly asserted that she sees herself as a conduit for what John would have wished for his legacy, and a bridge to his work for new generations of fans. Dressed in a chic black suit and fedora hat, along with a dark-lens version of the round, wire-rimmed glasses that Lennon favored, Ono, now 77, said she believes “his fans need me to sort of bring John back in a way. I’m trying my best to make sure that John’s voice is still heard, but in the way that he would have liked.”
She added: “I’m always looking at things as, ‘Is John going to approve of this, or not.’”
The PBS doc, which focuses on the late 1970s, when Lennon largely retreated from the spotlight to focus on raising son Sean, includes a great deal of footage that Ono says she herself was unaware of. Some, she indicated, shows Lennon in a less than flattering light. “There are many gritty moments in the film, and some parts are kind of painful for me,” said Ono. “But I think John wants that to be shown, in a way. You should know him as a many-dimensional person.”
Content of the several clips that were screened appeared to be pretty standard – present-day interviews with Lennon’s creative collaborators, such as record producers and musicians, intercut with footage of Lennon at work in the studio and the like. Among the interviewees is Dreamworks mogul David Geffen, who released Lennon’s 1980 Double Fantasy album on his newly formed Geffen Records the same month that Lennon was fatally shot. Geffen describes how important it was to John that the album showcased Ono’s compositions alongside his own. “He insisted that every other track by Yoko’s,” Geffen says. “”He was quite sure that was the right thing to do and that’s what he wanted.”
In one clip, John touches on his immigration troubles during an interview at New York radio station WNEW: “I love it, and that’s why I’m fighting so much to stay here – so I can be in New York,” he says. “I don’t harm anybody. I’ve got a bit of a loud mouth, that’s all. I think there’s room for an odd Lennon or two here.”
Still, from what Ono and what American Masters series creator Susan Lacy indicated, the doc goes to remarkable places. “I have never been prouder of a film than this one,” declared Lacy.
Ono said that Lennon’s influence, as she sees it, at least, continues in New York City – down to the number of men she sees pushing strollers through Central Park, a place Lennon visited almost daily with son Sean. “They don’t know that before John, no men did this, because they would have been embarrassed,” she said. “I suppose they don’t know it was John who started it, but they don’t have to.”
The fall slate from American Masters on PBS also includes Martin Scorsese’s,Letters to Elia, which Lacy decribed as “a moving and intimate look at the films of Elia Kazan, and how they influenced Scorsese as a filmmaker.”
[Photo courtesy PBS press room.]