been 30 years since John Lennon was gunned down in New York City. Had he
lived, the legend would have been 70 years old this year. I remember
December 8, 1980: Every one of my friends in shocked silence, glued to the
radio that was playing ŅAcross the UniverseÓ for the 18th time.
It was the moment that marked the end of an era and the beginning of
another, just like the blackened layer of ash that separates the Cretaceous
written by Robert Jones and directed by Edmund Coulthard, is among the crop
of books and films coming out to commemorate the life and legacy of John
Lennon. Like the feeling wedded to the 12-8-80 in our memory, Naked is about Lennon's pain, in
particular his relationship with the absent father who reappears after 17
years as a result of his sonÕs fame.
such, Lennon Naked, despite its noble intentions and admirable execution,
joins the rank of biopics that attempt to explain an artistÕs work as a
reaction to some trauma, childhood- or otherwise. Immortal Beloved (1994, starring Gary Oldman)
infuriated me by drawing a straight line between BeethovenÕs Ninth Symphony
and his abusive childhood. In contrast, I loved Julie TaymorÕs Frida, although I was never a
Kahlo fan. The filmmaker seemed to grasp something of the lust for life
that made Frida bigger than her crippling injury.
youÕve heard the raw emotions Lennon laid out for the whole world, you know
there is no easy way to account for the outrageous bravery that continues
to inspire all who hear it. Sure, itÕs an artistÕs job to express what s/he
is going though, but with such honesty and brutality? ThatÕs where the
mystery of a creative act comes in: It was an extraordinary chemistry of
the times and the man himself that resulted in those cries from the soul. What
filmmakers so often forget is that you can make therapy out of art but you
canÕt make art out of therapy.
In a series of picture-perfect re-creations of scenes
embedded in our memory from photographs, the film follows Lennon as his
long-lost father appears on the scene, and through his strained
relationships with wife Cynthia and the band. Into this world, Yoko Ono
drops as an answer to his prayers: an escape from his chaotic inner and
outer life. Indeed the recording of Two Virgins is made to look
like a random excursion, a daytrip.
Lennon, Christopher Eccleston is quietly acerbic, with a cool exterior.
Although itÕs a little hard at first to sustain the illusion (an energetic
23-year-old played by an actor going on 50), his Lennon grows more than
believable as his subject matures. Similarly, casting a young, pretty and
uninteresting Yoko Ono (as was the case in the TV movie John and Yoko: A
Love Story in
1985) would have reduced this incredible woman to a mere groupie, and
Lennon to a mere rock star. But Ono here (Naoko Mori), like EcclestonÕs
Lennon, is decidedly un-vacuous (with apologies to Mori, I feel obligated
to point out that Yoko was a babe in her own time).
illuminating OnoÕs intuitive and poetic temperament that Lennon found so
intriguing, the film raises our expectations. Was Yoko the catalyst that
pried him away from his clan and ŅcultureÓ? The force that stood by him
through his vigorous unraveling of knotted emotions? Unfortunately, clouds obscure her light and warmth
as she suffers a series of miscarriages and is reduced to a ghost in a
white robe who whispers ŅIÕm sorry.Ó
primal scream therapy precedes the climatic scene in which he plays his
recording of ŅMotherÓ to his father. Eccelston-as-LennonÕs measured
emotions combust with a lifetime of anger and hurt. True or not, it's a
scene we all wish really took place. Lennon wails, ŅMummy donÕt go, Daddy
come home,Ó stretching and bending the syllables as if his foot were on an
effects pedal connected to his voicebox. Unfortunately, the words primal
in the air; itÕs practically a subtitle.
tension is broken when the first notes of the next song fades in. ŅI donÕt
believe in Jesus.Ó I donÕt believe in ElvisÉI donÕt believe in the
Beatles, I believe in me, just Yoko and meÉas the couple, in their
white wedding outfits, board the plane taking them to the New World.
LennonÕs statement of self-assertion and at least a partial healing becomes
too convenient a relief, accompanying the coupleÕs flight into a promised land.
a scene meant to justify the title, John and Yoko dodge pestering fans and
duck into their London flat to feverishly rip each otherÕs
clothes off ŠŠ to stand naked in front of a white backdrop, with the camera
on a timer. In
the end, the man himself was more naked than LennonNaked.
on PBSÕ Masterpiece
Contemporary, Sunday, November 21