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Andrew Solt
John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, David Bowie, Phil Spector, Cynthia Lennon, Julian Lennon, Sean Lennon
Writing Credits:
Sam Egan, Andrew Solt

Discover John ... the angry youth, the musician, the radical, the husband, the father, the lover, the idealist ... through his own words and personal collection of film and music.

Imagine John Lennon comes from a treasure trove: the legendary musician's own collection of more than 240 hours of film and videotape, much of it never seen by the public. With cooperation from Yoko Ono in its creation, producers David L. Wolper and Andrew Solt (partners on This Is Elvis) transform the archival footage - and a monumental 36-tune soundtrack - into a spellbinding account of a complex, fascinating man. Lennon's own voice narrates "a classic film biography" (Roy Leonard, WGN-TV/Chicago).

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$3.7 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 12/6/2005

• Trivia Track
• ďA Tribute to John Lennon: The Man, The Music, The MemoriesĒ Featurette
• ďJohn & Yoko: Truth Be ToldĒ Featurette
• Acoustic ďImagineĒ Performance
• ďIsland HouseĒ Featurette
• ďThe Headmaster Looks BackĒ Featurette
• James Dean Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Imagine: John Lennon (Deluxe Edition) (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2005)

Much has been said about the life and career of John Lennon over the years Ė so much that it becomes difficult to bring anything new to the table. That problem mars 1988ís Imagine Ė John Lennon, a documentary that offers a decent overview but doesnít add much to the equation.

Lennon himself appears in the film via many different archival interviews and bits of footage. In addition, the program features then-new remarks from Yoko Ono, first wife Cynthia Lennon, sons Julian and Sean, producer George Martin, Johnís Aunt Mimi, former Beatles booking agent Allan Williams, reporter/friend Elliot Mintz, and one-time mistress May Pang.

Imagine follows a pretty straightforward chronology. It occasionally shows us shots from the recording of the Imagine album, but usually it proceeds in the expected timeline. It starts with Lennonís childhood and progresses through his early musical moments, his time with the Beatles, personal relationships over the years, his solo career and his death.

Thatís an awful lot of material to fit into one 106-minute movie, and Imagine runs through it rapidly. More than half the film covers Lennonís life through the breakup of the Beatles, and that doesnít leave a lot of room for the solo years. I suppose this makes sense given the importance of the Beatles and their impact on Lennon as well as the fact that those portions fill 30 years opposed to Lennonís 10 years after the bandís split.

The problem is that we donít really learn anything new. The Beatles have been covered to death, and Imagine fails to contribute a fresh perspective. Instead, it tries to encapsulate that phenomenon in about an hour. It doesnít succeed at that task, as the program just gives us a superficial glimpse of those years.

Imagine deals with the solo time a little better, though it seems to regard those years as something of an afterthought. The focus sticks more on Lennonís personal life than on his work. Some of that makes sense since he didnít record professionally for half that time, but I still would like to know more about the music and less about Yoko.

Speaking of whom, I was surprised to see so much discussion of Lennonís ďlost weekendĒ. This was a period around 1974 during which he and Yoko separated. Lennon headed out to LA, got drunk a lot, took up with a mistress, and hung out with many rock stars like Elton John and Keith Moon. I thought the show might gloss over that period, but it gives us decent notes about it. Iím not sure I swallow that the whole thing was Yokoís idea Ė she claims that she sent him out there and found May Pang for him Ė but Iím happy that it gets at least some attention.

The most interesting moments of Imagine come from some confrontations. We see Lennon and Ono argue with cartoonist Al Capp during one of their ďbed-insĒ. The conservative Capp expresses his disdain in no uncertain terms, and this turns into fascinating viewing. I also like an argument between Lennon and New York Times Gloria Emerson. She totally dismisses the gesture Lennon made when he returned his MBE in protest, and Lennon doesnít care for her line of thought.

Otherwise, Beatle fans are likely to find little new to entice them. Imagine includes precious few clips that arenít well-known at this point. I canít blame the film itself for some of that. Back when it came out in 1988, we didnít have The Beatles Anthology, Gimme Some Truth or all the other materials that have hit the shelves over the last 17 years. Viewed within that time frame, Imagine would be much more interesting as a collection of rare tidbits.

But Iím viewing it now. From that point of view, Imagine just isnít a very interesting show, at least not for those well-versed in all things Beatles. They wonít find much here that they donít already have or know. Itís a decent overview for folks who lack much Beatle/Lennon knowledge, but itís no better than that.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio D+/ Bonus C+

Imagine Ė John Lennon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Any program with so much archival footage inevitably will suffer from a mix of problems. That said, this one seemed a bit messier than I expected.

Usually when I review a documentary of this sort, I mainly base my grade on the quality of the new footage. Imagine didnít present a ton of then-modern interview clips, but it tossed in a smattering of them, and they didnít look very good. They demonstrated a slightly soft appearance and lacked much precision. Colors were drab and flat, while they suffered from an excess of grain. Some source flaws like specks and marks also marred these snippets.

Most of the rest of Imagine was problematic to some degree, though I accepted those issues more easily given the origins of the material. A few elements looked very good. In particular, much of the Beatles at Shea Stadium footage was lively and concise, and the parts of the ďStrawberry Fields ForeverĒ film were nicely rendered too.

Otherwise, the material tended to be flawed. The elements varied in accuracy and messiness; they could be reasonably solid or quite tattered. I thought the clips showed more problems than I might expect given my viewings of them elsewhere, but they werenít badly below expectations. Ultimately, this added up to a ďC-ď picture grade, as Imagine had its concerns but remained watchable.

One note about the framing: while Imagine came in its original theatrical aspect ratio, it nonetheless presented quite a few cropped images. That was because so many of the shots were originally composed for 1.33:1. There was a lot of TV footage and 16mm film here, none of which was meant for the 1.85:1 ratio.

I regarded the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Imagine as a bigger disappointment. Take that listing of ďDolby SurroundĒ with a serious grain of salt. If any information came from someplace other than the front center, I certainly didnít hear it. To my ears, this mix was totally monaural.

And not particularly great monaural, at that. Again, some of this stemmed from the source material, as there was only so much we could expect from older audio stems. Newer interview clips offered natural and concise speech, so I had no problems with that area.

Music was the main issue. If we watch a program about the life of a musician, then weíd certainly like to hear his work reproduced well. Not only did Imagine play the songs in mono, but it also failed to bring much life to them. The tunes were bass-heavy and lacked much gusto. They sounded flat and lifeless much of the time. Lennonís music deserves better than this weak soundtrack.

A mix of supplements rounds out the DVD. First we get a trivia track. If you activate it, this piece uses the subtitle stream to run text through the movie. It covers basics of Johnís life and career along with some history about the eras depicted in the film.

As I watched this text, I thought Grampa Simpson organized it. Although the information occasionally corresponds to the material onscreen, many times it comes out of nowhere and presents no logical connection to what we see. This seems like an odd choice, as the timing of the tidbits confuses us.

The text also truly embraces the concept of a ďtrivia trackĒ. Donít expect much of a history lesson here or a lot of insight. I learned some new things from the track, but it mainly presents odd little tidbits without much substance. It also goes for some moderately long stretches without much to say. If you watch this piece, donít expect much from it.

A few featurettes follow. A Tribute to John Lennon: The Man, The Music, The Memories runs 14 minutes and 45 seconds and includes comments from producer/writer/director Andrew Solt, Yoko Ono, producer David Wolper, writer/co-producer Sam Egan, film editor Bert Lovitt, and supervising film editor Bud Friedgen. Expect a Lennon lovefest here. We learn a little about the construction of Imagine, but mostly the participants tell us how much they adored Lennonís work. Yawn!

Next comes John & Yoko: Truth Be Told. It fills five minutes and 37 seconds. Already found on the Gimme Some Truth DVD, this was conducted by someone from the BBC Womenís Hour program. The interviewer chats with John and Yoko about Lennonís influence on kids and sex, and general attitudes in society toward love.

The Truth DVDís clip is 32 minutes longer, so itíll be the preferred source of this material. However, I must admit I thought the information was more interesting here. The Truth discussion lasts so long and gets so tedious that I didnít like it. The small tidbit here works better just because itís not bogged down in all the other nonsense.

Easily the most valuable extra on this DVD, we get an Acoustic ďImagineĒ Performance. Taken from a December 1971 Attica State benefit concert at the Apollo Theatre, this take lasts three minutes and 33 seconds. Itís a good rendition and a great historical memento.

For more archival footage, we get the eight-minute and 31-second Island House. This shows John, Yoko and others as they muck about part of their estate back in the early Seventies. Thereís nothing fascinating to see, but it presents a nice look at Lennonís private life; thereís something oddly intriguing about watching him make decisions related to chairs!

In addition to a trailer for the James Dean DVDs, we find a featurette called The Headmaster Looks Back. This runs nine minutes, 52 seconds and includes comments from William Ernest Pobjoy, the headmaster of Lennonís old high school. He offers some notes about Lennonís time there, his impressions of Lennonís activities, and connected topics. This becomes a surprisingly frank discussion, as Pobjoy doesnít offer the usual happy talk spin. That makes it a rather interesting chat.

Back when it hit screens in 1988, Imagine Ė John Lennon offered fans a good look at rare material. 17 years later, it no longer seems nearly as interesting or intriguing. Instead, it now stands as a perfunctory overview of Lennonís life but doesnít have much to make it special. The DVD offers erratic and flawed picture and sound plus a minor roster of extras. Leave this one for casual fans who want a simple history lesson but donít want to get into a long discussion of Lennon.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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