Chicago Drive-In
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DVD Zone: March 2007

| February 28, 2007 | 0 Comments

Dissenting Opinions


The U.S. Vs. John Lennon

Shut Up And Sing
The Weinstein Company

Public backlash was nothing new to John Lennon. After all, it was his ill-fated 1966 comment about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus that set off a firestorm of protest among Southern conservatives.

Never mind that the comment was taken out of context and Lennon’s hasty mea culpa explained the situation — radio stations in the South organized mass boycotts and record burnings.

Obviously, the whole incident was a mere blip on the screen, as The Beatles simply took it in stride and continued being the biggest band in history.

Once The Beatles had been put to bed and Lennon became a more outspoken figure, he would again pay a price for his words and actions — this time with the full weight of the Nixon administration crashing down on him.

The U.S. Vs. John Lennon recounts the John and Yoko of the early ’70s. This is Lennon as peace activist and anti-war spokesman, the man whose simple mantra of “Give peace a chance” became the rallying cry for millions. Of course, this kind of radical thinking could not be tolerated by the powers that be.

At the behest of J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the F.B.I., an intimidation campaign was begun against Lennon. His phone was tapped, and he was put under surveillance. His friendship with other notorious anti-establishment types such as Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and The Black Panthers eventually caused Hoover and, to a larger extent, Senator Strom Thurmond (with full backing of Nixon) to step up the acts of suppression by having him deported.

The film centers on Lennon’s fight to stay in the country, with fascinating archival footage and interviews with Lennon as he takes on the government. There are also present day interviews with Yoko, Black Panther founder Bobby Seale, and ’72 presidential candidate George McGovern. The other side of the fight is also represented, as convicted Nixon criminal and notorious nose bleed G. Gordon Liddy lets you know that the administration was absolutely correct in it’s suppression tactics. He also lets you know that those punk kids at Kent State had it comin’.

The disc also contains a wealth of special features on Lennon’s life, meditations on the nature of dissent, and Walter Cronkite meeting The Beatles, to name just a few.

Luckily, the people woke up. Lennon of course would get his green card, the lies and corruption of an administration were exposed, and the American public would never again let themselves be led by false claims into a war with no end, and their constitution used as fish wrap.

Ah . . . crap.

In 1905, philosopher George Santayana opined that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Enter the Dixie Chicks.

You know the story. In 2003, with the drumbeat to war based on false evidence again being beaten, the Chicks were performing in Shepherds Bush, England. It was at this show that Natalie Maines made her infamous quote about being “Ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

This wasn’t like Lennon’s comments of ’66. No, this was worse. For the conservative South that blindly regards the President’s every utterance as gospel, this was heresy. See, this wasn’t some Brit talkin’ smack, this was one of their own. This was the face of country music, the act that once again gave country music mainstream credibility, and differing opinions cannot — nay — will not be tolerated. While government surveillance hasn’t been initiated (though we really can’t know for sure), the retribution was just as swift. Radio stations in the South promptly dumped the Chicks from their playlist, and that hallowed tradition of record burning was once again initiated.

Shut Up And Sing follows the Chicks through the fallout of ’03 to the recording of Taking The Long Way with fantastic behind-the-scenes insight. While some around them tried to make the case that they should get out in front of the story and do a full, tearful apology, the girls held to their convictions and basically said to the country music establishment: If you don’t want to deal with us anymore, fine. We’ll get a new fan base. In the film’s most hilarious scene, a P.R. rep tells the Chicks in 2003 that they have to come out with a statement because the president’s approval ratings are sky high, the war is going great, and it will be over in a matter of weeks. The look on their faces is priceless.

The only place the disc seriously falters is the complete and total lack of special features. Documentaries don’t usually need extras, but after watching Shut Up And Sing, you just want more.

— Timothy Hiatt

The U.S. Vs. John Lennon

Film: **** Features: ***1/2

Shut Up And Sing

Film: ***1/2 Features: 0

Category: Columns, Monthly

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