Watching a John Lennon documentary without his music is like reading a Dr. Seuss book without the pictures: only worthwhile if you're really high. It's like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the bread: all over the place. It's like an analogy used to open a movie review: forced.
John Lennon: Love is All You Need takes us through the life of an icon - the band, the fame, the drugs, the dames, the world peace, and his death. The story unfolds through footage of John, and we observe as he metamorphoses from strapping young Liverpudlian into Druid Harry Potter. In lieu of a voiceover, the film's narration comes through interviews with family members and people who knew him (presumably), but their placement is disjointed and out of context. Sting shows up, for a minute. Were Sting and John pals? Why does Sting look like he's standing in a box full of sunlight? We'll never know.
Despite its relatively short run time, the film drags. The blame lies with our primary guide on this Abbey Roadtrip down memory lane, Paul Gambaccini. Oh, Paul. You sweet, well-meaning bundle of rambles. It's very difficult to pay attention to him. His commentary just isn't that exciting or helpful, which is too bad, because there is a lot of it.
Here is Paul Gambaccini's insightful take on one of the most contentious pieces of Lennon lore in existence:
I don't know if Yoko took the fun out of John, because I wasn't there.
Gee, I don't know either, Paul, but in this documentary, Yoko Ono is the fun. She is delightfully arrogant and blunt in footage from a recent solo interview, and whatever you may think of their relationship, watching her and John wallow in the nadirs of art-love is intoxicating.
I was going "bloop bloop bloop bloop" on the tapes, and she was going "alleyweeoop, alleyweeoop," and we made a tape all night. And in the morning we made love, as the sun came up.
Just another Tuesday night with the LennOnos.
Yoko's bloop-tastic intensity is contrasted by interviews with Cynthia Lennon and their son Julian. For most, it's a first glimpse at John's first wife, whom he abandoned for Yoko. She seems remarkably zen about his adultery and her paltry divorce settlement ($100,000).
People have their own lives to lead, and their own fate.
Lennon's fate leads him to activism, and the lack of music here is particularly pronounced. His songs were the soul of his message, and without them, "love is all you need" and "give peace a chance" sound like they came out of a fortune cookie. "Give peace a chance - in bed!" (They did.)
It is both tragic and galvanizing that John Lennon's quest for peace ended so violently. Reliving it is upsetting, but the film ends on a hopeful note - John's confidence that the message of peace and love will continue to spread.
The film has its flaws, but in the end, it manages to be an enjoyable retrospective on the life of an interesting person. Sometimes, that's all you need.