LOOKING FOR LENNON
Directed by: Roger Appleton
A documentary that looks at John Lennon's formative years - his tumultuous family life, his school years, through to the start of The Beatles…
Other than perhaps Elvis Presley, the history of The Beatles must be one of the most exhaustively mined periods of pop culture there has ever been. The number of books and documentaries are almost immeasurable. So it's quite surprising that Looking for Lennon manages to provide a relatively fresh take, covering John's early childhood, his home and school life.
The early section of the film deals with life in wartime and post-war Liverpool. It is mostly made up of stock footage from the period interspersed with some very early photos of John and his parents. Coupled with the choice of period music ('run rabbit"), this kind of feels somewhere between a Pathe News reel and Dad's Army, but it is still a very detailed account of the lack of stability in John's home-life.
A good portion of the film is delivered between Beatles historian David Bedford and poet/author Professor Paul Farley, and I found this part of the film to be a bit more tenuous because it veered away from facts and first-hand accounts and entered into the land of speculation. As the pair stand outside what was Lennon's childhood home (tellingly, even though the house itself is pretty innocuous and identical to every other house in the street bar the blue plaque on the wall, it was equipped with double electric gates), they talk about what John might have gotten up to and what he might have read as a child. The pair also visit the back wall of Strawberry Fields, and again it feels like the film is clutching at straws.
The film is on firmer ground when talking to old school friends, who matter-of-factly tell it like it is about John's character. It comes through time and again in the interviews that Lennon could be very prickly and you either really liked him or he really rubbed you the wrong way. You never get a sense of anyone trying to cash in on their association with Lennon, or trying to exaggerate their connection with him. All the various interviewees are expertly wrangled by director Roger Appleton to keep things on track.
As interesting as this early portion of Lennon's life is, it’s the moment that he takes an interest in music where you finally get a sense of a moment in history. The account told by an old school friend of how he heard Chuck Berry's Long Tall Sally for the first time is great, and you finally see the inception of him becoming a musician. This then develops into the formation of The Quarrymen and John's first taste of being a front man.
There are a number of things to note about this film. It provides some food for thought about how his childhood sewed the seeds and paved the path for the icon he became. Personally, having watched the film I get the sense that Lennon shaped the world around him rather than the other way round. It's also a story which becomes more and more engrossing as it develops through into his teens and his discovery of rock 'n' roll music and the development of The Quarrymen, the introduction to Paul McCartney and his years at art college, and finally the Beatles in Hamburg. What is surprising is a lack of the Beatles' music in the film, which I think is to its benefit, as it prevents any attempt to shoehorn meaning between the songs and events in his life, which would have felt tacky at best.
Unearthing a hitherto untold part of the Beatles story is no mean feat. I went into this expecting slim pickings and long stretches of speculation into the unknown, and although it is guilty of that once or twice there is a real sense of history being discovered here, and you can actually pinpoint the two moments which set the course of destiny and the formation of The Beatles, making this endeavor very worthwhile indeed.
7 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)