Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 30, 2018)
With this DVD, we get a look back at John Lennon’s 1971 classic Imagine via two separate video pieces: Imagine and Gimme Some Truth.
The former offers a “video album”, as it presents crude music videos for all 10 of the record’s songs. It also mixes in some of Yoko Ono’s music from the era.
I can’t quibble with the quality of John’s songs, as Imagine is a very good album. Do I think it’s his best? Nope – I’d put it third behind 1970’s Plastic Ono Band and 1974’s Walls and Bridges - but it’s at least a solid “B+” record.
As for Yoko, she shows her strengths and weaknesses via her handful of songs. Some – like the rocking “Midsummer New York” – work well, but others feel like sheer sonic self-indulgence.
Those tunes suit the style of this Imagine video album, as the entire package reeks of self-indulgence. Sure, John and Yoko boast some artistic ambition with these videos, but they rarely actually become interesting.
Most tend to repeat similar imagery again and again, and they never go anywhere. I get that music videos existed in a primitive state circa 1971, but we can find much more interesting reels from the years prior to this – including some from The Beatles themselves.
These videos tend to be boring. We watch John and Yoko play chess! We see them hang out with Andy Warhol and Miles Davis! We view them as they amble around their property!
Yawn. As a major Beatles fan, I find these videos interesting as historical curiosities, but it becomes tough to sit through 67 minutes of this semi-artsy meandering.
For something more substantial, we go to Gimme Some Truth, footage shot at the same time as the music videos. The program follows the sessions for the recording of the record and it provides an excellent look at that period. Truth shows a warts and all view of the work and offers some very interesting material.
Actually, the show mixes fairly raw session shots with short interview snippets and some of the proto-music video montages already seen in Imagine. I’ve already commented on those earlier so won’t repeat my thoughts, though at least some of the Truth segments offer alternate footage – and they’re more tolerable as occasional diversions, not as the whole shebang.
The interview lacks much punch, as the information reveals little of use. However, the rest of the program features generally excellent material.
One of the highlights relates to “How Do You Sleep?”, as we actually get to watch Lennon play the song to George Harrison for the first time. The quiet, barbed glee of the two as they connect their unspoken feelings about the unmentioned subject of the tune is fascinating to watch. (Spoiler alert: the song’s about Paul McCartney.)
But that’s not the best moment of Truth. Those elements come directly within the studio, as we watch John and the band work out the numbers.
I was surprised to see the heavy role Ono played in the proceedings. She contributed many ideas and seemed to be an active participant in the work.
Most of the footage seems fairly innocuous, but some heated moments arise. Lennon gets actively irritated on a few occasions. so we see his ire flare during “Gimme Some Truth”, “Oh My Love” and “Oh Yoko!”
The latter’s the most extended and amusing. Lennon’s growing anger at the engineer’s continued mistakes contrasts with the song’s sunny tone and makes the piece all the more entertaining.
Spookier is a meeting between Lennon and an obsessed fan. Clearly the latter has some mental issues, as we learn during their discussion.
Back in the day, Beatle fans had all sorts of freaky delusions, with or without drug usage. Though this deranged partisan seems harmless, the foreshadowing of December 8, 1980 makes this moment very creepy.
Gimme Some Truth could have used more documentary footage and less frivolity and musical montages, but overall, I still find it to be a fascinating piece of work. It’s an invaluable program for fans.
We rarely see such candid and revealing glimpses of any musical artist, much less such a legendary one. From start to finish - which includes a demo version of “Look At Me”, by the way - Truth is a joy to watch.