Saturday Night At The Movies

They’re gonna crucify me: Mayflower in reverse

By Dennis Hartley

Back in 1972, the U.S. government handed a certain British émigré a rather abrupt eviction notice, informing him and the missus that they had 60 days to get out of the country or face deportation proceedings.

This event would likely have not caused much of a ripple in anyone else’s life, had the folks in question not been a married couple known to millions simply as “John & Yoko”. And so began a highly politicized, four-year legal battle for citizenship, chronicled in the documentary The US vs. John Lennon, now available on DVD.

You know the back story: After a very public and controversial courtship, John Lennon and Yoko Ono marry in 1969, the Beatles break up, and the couple begin making their own headlines with a series of mildly political “performance art” media stunts (starting with the relatively benign “Bed-In For Peace”) and then move to NYC in the early 70’s, where they begin to openly sympathize with the “radical” American political groups of the time, much to the chagrin of the Nixon administration. The apparent last straw for Tricky D.& Co. was John and Yoko’s 1972 appearance at a charity concert to help cover legal fees for White Panther Party founder John Sinclair, who had been jailed ostensibly on drug charges, but was considered by many at the time to be a political prisoner.

Declassified documents now prove that, from day one, there was direct inter-agency manipulation of John and Yoko’s deportation proceedings, from the FBI all the way up to the Oval Office, resulting in a nearly four-year long persecution that was probably best described by Lennon himself, who referred to the machinations as “Kafkaesque”.

The film features great archival footage, with recollections from the likes of Bobby Seale, John Sinclair, Geraldo Rivera, Noam Chomsky, Ron Kovic, Paul Krassner, George McGovern, and, er, G. Gordon Liddy (guess whose side he’s on). The most insightful comment comes from the ever-glib Gore Vidal, who, when asked what it was about Lennon that made him such a threat to the Nixon cabal, says: “He (Lennon) represented Life, and was admirable. Mr. Nixon, and (for that matter) Mr. Bush, represent Death, and that’s bad.” (Perhaps that is a bit of an over-simplification, but so true.)

The film is a tad dry in its execution (it was produced by VH-1, which likely accounts for the rote “Behind the Music” approach) but it’s still a compelling tale, and an important one. It has much to say about what is going on right now with the “dissent vs. disloyalty” issue (Dixie Chicks, anyone?) and the dangers of being governed by an administration that parcels up the Bill of Rights like customized selections from a dim sum cart.

Enemies of the State: Dixie Chicks - Shut Up & Sing, Don't Look Back, Panther, Steal This Movie!, Steal This Movie!, Berkeley in the Sixties, Sir! No Sir! - The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War in Vietnam,Nixon - Collector's Edition, Born on the Fourth of July (Special Edition), Strawberry Statement, Medium Cool, Sympathy for the Devil. And for that “Kafkaesque” context…start with Orson Welles’ The Trial.