According to a title card that comes at the end of LennonNYC, a new documentary about John Lennon’s up-and-down life during the 1970s after he relocated to the U.S. from England, the film would not have been possible without the extensive participation of Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. Ono’s participation might explain the generally hagiographic tone of Michael Epstein’s film, which, despite efforts to humanize the by-now-canonized rock icon, mostly ends up presenting a sentimental, near-saintly portrait of him even when, in the mid-’70s, he is at his lowest point mentally during his own “lost weekend” living apart from Ono in Los Angeles. (It’s telling, for instance, that the film focuses more on Lennon’s devoted relationship to his second son, Sean, and makes only a passing acknowledgment of his more troubled relationship with first son, Julian, born during the height of his Beatles years.)
However squeaky clean, though, LennonNYC is nevertheless reasonably affecting if you can roll with its overly reverent take on Lennon’s post-Beatles life—the way it paints much of that life as a long quest for a personal stability that finally arrives in the forms of his reconciliation with Ono and Sean’s birth. For someone like me who wasn’t alive during the decade covered, the film offers a serviceably evocative time capsule of a New York gone by. And the film does manage to offer some illuminating context in which to fully appreciate his solo albums, especially Double Fantasy, which he and Ono completed three weeks before he was assassinated in 1980.
There are no special revelations in LennonNYC, then—but for the Lennon fan celebrating the 70th anniversary of his birth and the 30th anniversary of his death, the film’s combination of previously unheard in-studio recordings, digitally remastered concert footage, and unreleased versions of familiar Lennon/Ono tunes might satisfy.
The 48th New York Film festival runs from September 24 to October 10. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.