JOHN LENNON: RARE AND UNSEEN (DVD) Image

John Lennon was, arguably, the most fascinating of the Beatles – his sharp wit, political activism and self-promotional talent made him stand out from his Liverpool mates during the reign of the Fab Four and in the period following the group’s break-up.

Lennon’s gift of gab seemed to soak up the spotlight, whether he was being interviewed with the other Beatles or whether he was making joint appearances with Yoko Ono.  Whether discussing the Vietnam War or the avant-garde nature of his collaborations with Ono, he always managed to keep a surprisingly rancor-free attitude. (The rare exception was relating the political turmoil surrounding the Beatles’ disastrous Manila engagement in 1966.) Even the touchy subject of the break-up of the Beatles was handled with charm – in a 1970 TV interview, Lennon acknowledged that the act had run its course and any continuation would make them seem more clownish than cutting edge.

This DVD, which is released without a director’s credit, offers a hodgepodge of rare British television interviews (including some material that was considered lost for years) along with newsreel footage and assorted comments from associates and famous fans, including (for no very clear reason) “Dancing with the Stars” judge Len Goodman. But Goodman’s odd presence seems to fit the warped logic of this messy documentary, which distractingly presents its archival material out of chronological order. Key episodes in Lennon’s Beatles-era life (particularly the collapse of his first marriage) are left out, while nothing is offered regarding his career following the release of “Give Peace a Chance.”

Even worse, the DVD’s producers were unable to license any of Lennon’s music.  Thus, there is endless talk about his innovative and memorable work, but barely a chord is heard to affirm his greatness.

Lennon’s fans can overlook the problems with the production and enjoy watching their icon at the height of his cultural influence. However, it is a shame that this well-intentioned presentation didn’t quite offer the level of tribute that its subject deserved.

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