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RELEASED: 1988, Cert.15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 100 mins
DIRECTOR: Andrew Solt
PRODUCERS: Andrew Solt & David L Wolper
WRITERS: Andrew Solt & Sam Egan
FILM ONLY REVIEW
The 1988 film release, Imagine, is a very well put together compilation of clips, interviews and similar, focusing on the life of John Lennon, with Lennon himself speaking a large part of the accompanying narrative.
The film starts in 1971 with the cameras slowly panning towards Tittenhurst Park, the mansion set in many acres of lush green Berkshire countryside, which John shared with Yoko Ono. After a small introductory piece where John sings and plays the piano a little, the proceedings get underway with a backtrack to his early, pre-Beatle days with his group The Quarrymen, chronologically moving forward, treating the viewer to the astonishing story of how The Beatles were created, their time spent playing in both Liverpool's Cavern Club and performing gigs in Hamburg, then onto their discovery by Brian Epstein, managing to secure a recording contract with Parlophone and their rapid rise to worldwide fame under the careful production of George Martin. The film moves through various stages of Lennon's career with The Beatles until they disbanded in 1969, from which point it concentrates on his solo music career together with his activities as a peace campaigner.
Imagine is, at least for me, a fascinating journey through the life story of ex-Beatle Lennon. The choice of very well-preserved historical film clips is perfect, which I feel gives a far deeper insight of John as a person than anything else I've seen or read. We see John begin as a bright, enthusiastic young man - tinged with more than a mote of aggressiveness that taints his otherwise easy-going disposition - humorous, intelligent, resourceful and upbeat, before moving into a very introspective phase which sometimes oozes wittily yet at other times screams out almost desperately from his music as it mutated during his active years.
After John and his first wife Cynthia part company when Yoko Ono becomes entrenched into everything John does in a big way, the film shows how Yoko, the love of his life, gradually becomes his stabilising influence, encouraging and allowing him to deal with and silence his inner demons, thus turning him into a much nicer person all round.
Although I have always been a devout John Lennon fan from the days of Love Me Do onwards, I always sensed a slightly scary 'edge' present in his personality, whereby he probably wasn't somebody it would be wise to cross swords with, yet when I first saw Imagine in about 1989-ish (and this feeling has compounded each time I've watched it as the years have passed), I have very strongly felt that the film carefully digs underneath the prickly façade which Lennon had erected whilst a young man, managing to excavate the soul of a person who had deep-seated insecurities and vulnerabilities, not to mention possessing a profound sensitivity and care for people en masse. During the latter part of the film which mostly concentrates on John's post-Beatle career, I see a warm, calm, strong individual emerge who isn't afraid to admit his faults and the errors of some of his ways. Not too long before his untimely death, I see a settled, contented, relaxed, happy man who is more interested in raising his young son Sean than writing songs or playing his guitar, plus successfully getting to know his older son Julian, who due to his Beatle career and much to his self-admitted regret, John had missed out on most of his (Julian's) formative years.
As well as some fascinating Beatles' and solo Lennon footage (particularly observing the degree of hysteria worldwide the four mop-tops caused), Imagine also contains clips of various people speaking about him....people who were close to or associated with him in one way or another. Just a few of these people who we see speaking about Lennon on the film are Yoko Ono, his first wife Cynthia, his sons Julian and Sean, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Elliot Mintz, Aunt Mimi, Phil Spector, May Pang, Derek Taylor, Timothy Leary...plus many more. Whether any of these people at any given time liked or disliked Lennon, they all had something strong and positive to say about him.
For anybody who has been a close follower of John Lennon through both his Beatles and his solo periods, Imagine probably won't reveal anything they don't already know, but all the same it's still interesting and heartwarming to see this cleverly assembled collection of various footage - some is amusing, where we see clips of The Beatles quipping whilst being interviewed, some is serious, such as witnessing hosts of American teenagers burning Beatles' records and paraphernalia when John once announced during an interview that the band was more popular than Jesus, not to mention drug busts, marital breakups and threats from Japanese fascists and the Ku Klux Klan! There are quite a few clips where John receives much criticism (combined with much praise) for not only marrying Yoko Ono, but the newly married pair spending a week in bed at The Hilton Hotel in Paris as an advertisement for world peace.
There are a few clips in the film where we see John having the occasional tantrum, but he is usually appeased by Yoko, or realises himself that he has overstepped the mark and calms down in an apologetic way.
There is only one thing I'd like to have seen a little attention paid to, yet it was totally omitted from the film, is John's early 1970s experience of primal therapy. I have elsewhere, long ago, seen sections from interviews with him where he spoke frankly and openly about his primal therapy treatment and regardless of whether it's something anybody believes in or not, what Lennon had to say about it was very interesting. I just wish they'd have included a small section on it in the film Imagine.
What I have said above is really only an outline of what can be expected whilst watching Imagine; there's much more, and it makes for a very absorbing, interesting, fascinating 100 or so minutes' viewing.
I'm not someone who cries at sad films, but I do get a huge lump in my throat when I see people's reactions to Lennon's murder, clips of which are shown towards the end, and the subsequent speeches given by Yoko Ono, his sons Julian and Sean - plus even a few sentences from ex-wife Cynthia - are incredibly moving. It is heart-rending to see crowds of mourners surround New York's Dakota Building where Lennon lived and outside of which he was murdered, holding candles in the dark, sobbing, singing All You Need Is Love and embracing one another for comfort and support. None of this grieving comes across as in the slightest bit mawkish or falsely sentimental - it is obviously a heartfelt and genuine expression of deep sadness over the murder of a man they held in great esteem. A whole generation who grew up with Beatles' music and Lennon's influence were robbed on that terrible day in December 1980 of somebody who gave them a focus, a message, and a whole new way of looking at things such as peace, love and understanding.
I have two personal favourite clips from Imagine; the first one being tender and heartwarming, and the second which always sends a chill down my spine. My first favourite is when John, Yoko, Phil Spector (his then producer) and the band are involved in a recording session at the Tittenhurst mansion. It is drawn to John's attention that there is a person prowling around in the grounds, so he (John) goes outside to investigate. We then see John talking to what looks like a very burned-out hippie character who seems lost, confused, and deluded as to the meanings of John's songs. Although not unpleasant, at first John is a little dismissive towards this young man and his fantasies, but after a while he (John) gives the man a very tender, concerned look and asks him if he's hungry. On being told "yes", John then invites the bedraggled, spaced-out looking man in for something to eat. The other favourite clip is much later on in the film where we see John and Yoko sitting up in bed together (presumably in their Dakota Building apartment home) reading through some fan mail. John reads aloud from a letter he picks at random from the pile. The letter is a warning from somebody who claimed to have contacted the late Brian Epstein using an ouija board, and that Brian sends a warning to John that there will be an attempt to assassinate him. Both John and Yoko laugh, treating it as a joke, and throw the letter back onto the pile with all the others. Not too long after that incident, Mark Chapman fired several shots into Lennon as he walked home with Yoko from a recording session....!
Imagine as a film flows seamlessly, bringing to life the character of a much admired man in a very appealing, heartwarming and easily watchable collection of historic clips that I'd hazard a guess you don't need to be a Lennon/Beatles' fan to enjoy and be fascinated by. Sadly, I don't feel this movie has over the years had the recognition it deserves, as for me, it shines and stands out far up and above all other Lennon/Beatles' memorabilia on film I've personally ever seen....I strongly recommend giving it a watch.
At the time of writing, Imagine can be purchased on Amazon as follows....and I urge anyone considering investing in a copy of the DVD to be careful how you choose, as a couple of other, unrelated films exist which have the same title:-
New: from £2.39 to £20.00
Used: from £2.38 to £10.03
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~