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Imagine: John Lennon
featuring: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr
director: Andrew Solt

102 minutes (15) 1988
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Warner DVD Regions 2/4/5 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Imagine: John Lennon is a film biography made up of archive footage and new interviews. It's rather spooky to hear Lennon narrate his own life story in a film made eight years after his untimely death, even though the narration is drawn from various interviews he had made over the years. In between whiles are newly shot interviews with first wife Cynthia, sons Julian and Sean, George Martin and Yoko Ono. These interviews are handsomely lit by the late Nestor Almendros, who as one of the world's great cinematographers seems absurdly overqualified for the task.

The absence of any of the (then) three surviving Beatles for new interviews gives the sense that this is a Lennon estate authorised version. It isn't a hagiography, but you sense that certain awkward aspects are airbrushed out of existence. Rumours of homosexual affairs with Brian Epstein and original bassist Stu Sutcliffe may just be that - rumours unworthy of inclusion. (For more on these subjects in fictionalised form, see the films The Hours And Times and Backbeat, both featuring uncannily lifelike performances as Lennon from Ian Hart.) But more importantly the film never gets to grips with how The Beatles worked. Too often McCartney is regarded as the conventional one with Lennon the experimentalist rebel. That simply isn't true: McCartney was just as aware of the avant-garde as Lennon. On the other hand, Lennon was just as capable as musical artifice (see Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite on Sergeant Pepper) even if he increasingly favoured music as expression of self. And the film completely ignores the two other Beatles: Harrison was a fine guitarist and a songwriter capable of producing what Frank Sinatra described as "one of the finest love songs of the last 50 years" (Something). No one would make great claims for Ringo's singing and writing abilities, but his influence on pop/rock drumming is beyond doubt. But most vitally, they were a group and for a few years almost a four-person gestalt personality - a whole greater than the sum of its parts. As solo artists, they certainly had their moments, but none of them really equalled their work in The Beatles.

As a portrait of a complex, highly talented man, Imagine: John Lennon doesn't really hold water. That said; there's a lot of excellent live footage here and a 36-song soundtrack that is hard to beat. There's a very funny encounter with Al Capp, and some of the more 'intimate' moments (derived from home movies) are fascinating.

Imagine: John Lennon is shown in a ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced, opened up slightly from the cinema ratio of 1.85:1. (Almost all the footage here was originally shot in 4:3, but has been cropped to fit the wider ratio of the cinema screen.) The soundtrack is basic stereo, with some surround presence during live concert footage. Subtitles are available in 23 languages and there's an optional 'trivia track' to play along with the feature.

The second disc of this set features further extras: a making-of piece A Tribute To John Lennon: The Music, The Memories, The Man (14:47), film of a radio interview from 1971 (5:37), a live acoustic version of Imagine from the Apollo Theatre, New York, 1971 (3:33), home movies of John and Yoko's home at the Tittenhurst Estate, Ascot (8:20), and an interview with William Ernest Pobjoy, Lennon's headmaster at the Quarry Bank High School, Liverpool (9:51). These disc extras are completed by a trailer for Warner's release of the James Dean DVD boxset.
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