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Simon Hilton
John Lennon
Writing Credits:

Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon contains original and newly created videos for all 20 song selections with alternate videos of "Working Class Hero" and "Imagine" and "Slippin' And Slidin'." This collection also features new animated line drawings which appear between the songs as well as previously unreleased "John And Yoko" footage. All music has been remixed from the original masters in 5.1 Surround Sound.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 82 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 11/18/2003

• “Working Class Hero” Music Video
• “Slippin’ and Slidin’” Studio Performance
• “Imagine” Live Performance
• “Hair Peace”
• “Everybody Had a Hard Year” Film Excerpt
• “Imagine” Audio Instrumental Version with Photo Gallery
• Selection of Animated John Lennon Line Drawings


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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Lennon Legend: The Very Best Of John Lennon (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 9, 2005)

Say what you will about Yoko Ono, but at least she never ruthlessly exploited the legacy of John Lennon. Contrast that with the gajillions of posthumous releases from artists such as Jimi Hendrix or Tupac Shakur. Clearly their caretakers see them as little more than cash cows to be milked dry.

Not that we’ve not gotten a fair amount of Lennon product in the years since his death, but Ono has demonstrated reasonable restraint, at least in regard to musical releases. 2003’s Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon marks the first DVD compilation of John’s music videos, or approximations of such. Lennon was killed right on the eve of the MTV revolution, so unlike Paul McCartney or even George Harrison – who produced some clever clips for 1987’s Cloud Nine - we don’t have any “real” music videos for John’s work.

That creates the greatest problem with Legend, as most of the material was assembled posthumously to offer ad hoc music videos. Actually, the DVD launches with the closes thing to a “real” video we’ll find: “Imagine”. Simple and tasteful, this piece shows John at the piano in a white room while Yoko opens the curtains. It fits the song and seems quite effective.

We then get a TV performance of “Instant Karma”. It’s a simple lip-synch clip with John and a band, and it features some bad miming; the bassist doesn’t even bother to pretend to play accurately. Nonetheless, it’s a cool example of a TV appearance and fun to see.

Unfortunately, Legend goes downhill from there. Virtually all of the remaining videos present montages of different sorts. Some – like “Mother” – offer photo collections that tie in to the music. “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” provides some cheap animation, parts of which follow Lennon’s sketchy style. Most of the videos use film montages, though, and the majority feature the same theme: John and Yoko, happy together.

Boy, if I never see a shot of John and Yoko as they romp together, it’ll be too soon. We get tons of that sort of image in Legend, and it grows old. Not that all the clips use that format. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” presents shots of death, destruction and war-related violence to illustrate its theme. “(Just Like) Starting Over” follows a 1970 quote of where John would like to be at the age of 64 with a fantasy depiction of that lifestyle; it ends with the disruption of the setting and actually manages to seem somewhat touching.

A few of the videos include performance footage. “Cold Turkey” presents some snippets from a 1973 concert, for instance, and “Stand By Me” and “Jealous Guy” include a few shots of Lennon singing in the studio. “Give Peace a Chance” starts with shots from the “bed-in” at which the song was recorded. However, all these mostly feature more general montage footage. Since the clips with “Jealous Guy” appear to have been created with Lennon’s design back in 1971, I have no problem with that, but the disruptions to the others seem more annoying. Why not stick with the performances? I’d rather watch the “bed-in” shots than see various protests for “Peace”.

The “Cold Turkey” clip is especially irritating. For one, it features the studio version of the song, not the live rendition. In addition, it doesn’t even bother to consistently depict images from “Cold Turkey”; much of the time, it becomes obvious that the band play something else.

Despite those flaws, “Turkey” is a highlight of the set compared to the others. The vast majority of the videos were made after Lennon’s death. Oddly, the video for “Nobody Told Me” isn’t the same one used to promote Milk and Honey back in 1983. That was also a montage-style video, so I have no idea why we get a different one.

When taken individually, many of the montage videos actually seem reasonably effective and interesting. A few duds appear, like the bland series of shots found in “Love” and “#9 Dream”, but otherwise, they work acceptably well. The problem comes when we view Legend as a whole. Ennui sets in, as the format becomes repetitive and tiresome.

This also means we find very few real standout clips. As I mentioned, the first couple were good, and occasionally we encounter solid moments as parts of other videos. Unfortunately, they mostly come across as bland and not terribly interesting.

Lennon Legend contains a lot of good music and acts as a fairly solid greatest hits collection. I can’t think of any Lennon hits that fail to appear here, so fans who want bang for the buck might get something out of it; since it includes solid music and sporadically interesting visuals, it seems superior when compared to the Legend CD. However, if you want an intriguing set of Lennon music videos, you’ll not find it here. It doesn’t exist, and this generally dull set doesn’t substitute for real videos.

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

Most of Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The one exception came from “Just Like Starting Over”, which offered a 1.78:1 ratio. Given the very broad range of source materials, one couldn’t expect great visuals from Legend, and indeed the image seemed problematic.

As with all else seen here, sharpness varied. For the most part, the shots looked acceptably accurate but not tremendously well defined. The videos usually demonstrated reasonable definition, but quite a lot of variation occurred, and more than a few rather soft shots occurred. Occasional examples of jagged edges and shimmering appeared, and I also saw some moderate edge enhancement on occasion.

Not surprisingly, source flaws created many concerns. These varied from clip to clip but included varying levels of grain, specks, hairs, grit, spots, lines, and marks. None of these surprised me, but they definitely distracted at times.

Also unsurprisingly, colors varied considerably. Actually, the hues didn’t change that much, as they mostly seemed fairly flat and lifeless. Not a lot of vivacity appeared here, as the tones consistently looked mild and bland. Black levels seemed similarly erratic but tended toward somewhat inky tones and didn’t display much density. Shadows didn’t pop up often and seemed decent when they occurred. Ultimately, none of the visuals of Lennon Legend should surprise anyone, as no one could expect stellar picture quality from a project of this sort.

On the other hand, the audio fared quite well. Lennon Legend featured both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I noticed no differences between the two, as they seemed virtually identical.

That was fine with me, since both sounded very good. The songs opened up the normal stereo soundfield nicely much of the time. The tracks never went absolutely nuts, and they usually stayed with reasonably faithful stereo imaging. Main vocals stayed well centered, while instruments spread naturally and distinctively across the spectrum. Delineation seemed clean and tight.

Surround usage varied from song to song but seemed engaging. Some songs – like “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” – stayed surprisingly stuck in the front; given that track’s sonic busyness, I expected it to spread more actively to the rear. Other numbers did that, however, and worked nicely. For example, “Instant Karma” moved some piano and handclaps to the rear, while “#9 Dream” presented the song’s surreal insert vocals in the surrounds. These elements worked naturally and smoothly to create an effective soundfield.

Audio quality depended on the source to a degree but seemed generally excellent. Any distortion to vocals emanated from the original recordings. For example, “Instant Karma” always was rough, and that quality remained here. For the most part, though, Lennon’s singing was concise and natural. Instruments seemed cleanly depicted and nicely detailed.

Highs came across as clear and bright, while bass response often seemed surprisingly rich. A few tracks like “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” sounded a little thin, but others took on life I’d not previously heard. “Stand By Me” demonstrated a depth and clarity I didn’t recall from prior murkier editions, and the usually thin “Mind Games” was quite warm and inviting. I’ll leave to others to debate if this mucked with the original production intentions; the answer’s likely “yes”, but I won’t worry about that here. Suffice it to say that Lennon Legend consistently sounded very strong.

The DVD includes a mix of extras. We open with an alternate video for Working Class Hero. This provides the version of the song heard on the 1998 John Lennon Anthology compilation along with occasional Lennon soundbites. We also get a general montage of Lennon clips, old photos, and a few of his cartoons appear as well. It’s not a very interesting piece.

Next we get a rarity for this set: a clip that actually looks like a real music video. Shot for the 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album, Slippin’ and Slidin’ shows a mimed performance in the studio from John and band. It’s not the same as a true live clip, but it’s fun to watch John play for the camera, and it’s a highlight of this package.

Apparently John’s final true live performance, Imagine comes from an April 18, 1975 “Salute to Lew Grade” concert. Lennon strums an acoustic guitar and sings with band accompaniment. Though he plays to a seemingly disinterested crowd and doesn’t produce a great performance, this piece stands as a very cool artifact and marks one of this set’s best moments.

A brief and odd clip, Hair Piece comes across as a kind of weird public service announcement. John and Yoko tell us to stay in bed and grow our hair for peace. It didn’t work, but it’s an interesting bit to see.

Another short and strange piece, Everybody Had a Hard Year shows John and Yoko in a garden. They sing what would become part of “I’ve Got a Feeling” as he picks the melody to “Julia” on the guitar. It’s a curiosity, but an interesting one.

20 short Animations appear. These feature the well-known Lennon style of simple cartoon, and they last a total of 90 seconds. These didn’t do much for me. Finally, the Gallery displays a running montage of Lennon photos. These come accompanied by an instrumental version of “Imagine”. It’s a decent collection that lasts three minutes.

Though not without its moments, I must regard Lennon Legend as a disappointment. Occasional gems appear, but mostly we just get one fairly monotonous video montage after another. Picture quality displays many flaws due to the source material, but the audio sounded quite good. The extras include some fine elements as well; in fact, the supplements presented a few of the set’s highlights. Despite those, Legend remains best suited to Lennon die-hards.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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