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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Politics > Censorship > Terrorism > The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2007/Lionsgate/DVD) + 20 To Life – The Life & Times Of John Sinclair (2007/MVD Visual)

The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2007/Lionsgate/DVD) + 20 To Life – The Life & Times Of John Sinclair (2007/MVD Visual)


Picture: C+/C     Sound: B-/C+     Extras: B-/C-     Documentaries: B/C+



As a great flipside to the 1988 documentary Imagine – John Lennon (reviewed elsewhere on this site,) Yoko Ono backed a new look at dissent and how it affected her and her husband in the David Leaf/John Scheinfeld documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2007) shows how Lennon’s sense of right and wrong became politicized in the face of government oppression and how that is further fused by Ono entering his life.


The always involving 96 minutes tells the story of how Lennon, naïve as he might have been in some cases, took on friends who were increasingly becoming the new enemies of the state and landing up on President Nixon’s famed “enemies list” to boot.  However, when he joined a concert in protest of poet/revolutionary/Leftist John Sinclair for spending insane amounts of time and in isolation for simple drug possession, the authorities suddenly let him out of prison for time serves.


This got the shocked notice of the federal authorities, who started keeping a file on Lennon, tried to have him deported for years and spied on every aspect of his life.  Though he finally won his case years later, the spying apparently continued all the way up to the still questionable “lone nut” fatal shooting he suffered in 1980 as a significant transition of power occurred in the U.S., which is surprisingly not lost on Ono.


Ono is joined by other interviewees including Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, John Dean, Ron Kovic, G. Gordon Liddy, Bobby Seale, Gore Vidal and Tom Smothers.  You just cannot pass that up!


Though not as good as the Imagine film, it is still very powerful and at this particular period, could not have better timing.  It is one of the must see documentaries of the year.  At the same time and with much less reach is a documentary on the actual John Sinclair.  20 To Life – The Life & Times Of John Sinclair (2007, 86.5 minutes) shows how he was politically radical from the start, what his agenda was and how his life intersected with Lennon’s, freeing him from a politically motivated incarceration.


Going on longer than it should, wallowing in Sinclair’s indulgences when it should examine more of the history and political implications of what was going on, it makes a worth-a-look companion to The U.S. vs. John Lennon showing the man who Lennon put his neck out for.  Was Lennon ever properly thanked?  Not here, but Lennon’s success was built on the everyman and it is no surprise he would be so selfless.


The 1.78 X 1 image on The U.S. vs. John Lennon has plenty of great still and stock film and analog video footage, but unfortunately, the interviews are shot in HD and it does not look as good, consistent or smooth as Imagine as a result.  The new footage also has motion blur and somewhat plugged color.  I wonder how this will look in Blu-ray.  The 1.33 X 1 color image in Sinclair is all analog NTSC video, is softer and is even less consistent, but is watchable.  Both have Dolby Digital sound encoding, 2.0 Stereo in both cases and 5.1 on The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which has some good surrounds at times and good use of music.


Extras on Sinclair are just a sampling of his poems, while The U.S. vs. John Lennon offers much more, including a DVD-ROM accessible text interview form Tariq Ali’s book Streetfighting Years: An Autobiography Of The Sixties.  The regular DVD includes Yoko’s letters to the parole board and several featurettes including Becoming John Lennon, Power To The People, Dissent vs. Disloyalty, Walter Cronkite Meets The Beatles, The One To One Benefit Concert, The “Two Virgins” Album Cover and a look at the classic songs Imagine and Sometime In New York.


The Sinclair disc is worth seeing just to now who Lennon went out of his way for, but The U.S. vs. John Lennon is the kind of work more than a few people would like to censor, burn and stop you from seeing.  Don’t let them get away with that!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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