Monday, June 14, 2010

DVD Review: John Lennon: Rare and Unseen

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

John Lennon: Rare and Unseen
Wienerworld Presentations, 2010
75 minutes, USD $14.95

When VCRs first came out, I remember getting a VHS of Beatles’ press conferences. This DVD reminded me of that, as there is not a stitch of music in it, but luckily it is a bit more comprehensive and certainly the sound is cleaner than that long-ago VHS.

Lord knows, there is so much documentation on the Beatles, in all formats, so here is one more, with its own little twists. If I have it right, most of the framework of this collection is based around a British television commentary by author Desmond Norris (The Naked Ape, etc.), which looks like it’s from around the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. There are also a number of clips of the 1969 appearance of John and Yoko at on David Frost’s program. But I get ahead of myself.

All the Beatles are here in the first past, though not often heard from because, well, this isn’t about them, per se. In fact, Cynthia and Sean don’t get a mention at all, other than a second hand snipe by Ringo during a press conference (“Don’t forget you’re married! Oh, that’s a secret…”).

Through the early part of the DVD, there are present day interview snippets mixed in with older footage, with the likes of Colin Hanton of the Quarrymen, Beatles press officer Tony Barrow, comedian / announcer / fan Len Goodman (you’ll know him when you see him), and for some God-knows reason, Phil Collins (who, other than being a contemporary of Lennon, doesn’t really add much, as usual). One of the more interesting and amusing extended comments is by actor Tony Booth, who happens to be the father-in-law of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair; he tells of meeting Lennon at their mutual dealer’s flat, and of them sharing some weed.

Other than a brief comment by Hanton, there isn’t really anything pre-Beatles to note here at all (Act 1 is the Beatles, Act 2 is post-Beatles), picking up on slices of press conferences, television interviews, and b-roll footage of the boys getting on and off planes. Any concert footage, which is kept to a minimal, is used as background for radio interviews.

At first, there seems to be as much footage of other people as there is of John, but that just sets things up: as Hanton explains that at the beginning, John was actually quite shy and reticent to speak in public, but as time went on, this would change sharply. Lennon clearly came into himself in the late ‘60s, being fairly open to express whatever his opinions were, and take appropriate actions for himself.

One of the 2wo large focuses on the Beatles end is the whole religion flap that brought the Beatles back into the spotlight (albeit not necessarily for the right reasons) in 1966, during an interview with Maureen Cleave. There are shots of Lennon getting very defensive and rankled during interviews, and the now-amusing-and-yet-sad comments about Lennon and Christianity by the Klan.

Another segment focuses on the negative reaction to the band in Manila in (also) 1966, when then-first “lady” Imelda Marcos perceived a snubbing by the band, which had to basically flee for their lives from angry crowds. Some of the press conference when they returned to the UK is featured here.

While there is no footage on the whole India debacle (which I’m convinced was as much a cause for the break-up as was the management issues), it is only mentioned in a passing comment. Likewise, there is very little mentioned about Brian Epstein and his relationship with Lennon, though Lennon’s bitterness about the realization of Epstein’s lack of business acumen, which became clear after his death, is quite pronounced. And this, of course, is followed by the acrimonious Klein-Eastman choices that actually did break up the band. Lennon goes on to say that they were going their own way anyway, but it’s easy to tell there is resentment and possibly hurt in his comments.

Of course, by this time, nearly every shot of Lennon is one with Yoko by his side, including the infamous (and abovementioned) 1969 David Frost interview, where Lennon has audience members hitting a nail into a piece of wood and then asking them how it felt.

The bed-in period and John’s activism are well covered, including the concert tour where all the money was to go to prisons to help people make bail. There is a funny quip by him knocking Mick Jagger about greed.

I remember at the time, when I was watching some of these interviews as they originally played out, wondering how much the drugs had played with Lennon’s mind, because the whole “consciousness” bit was fuzzy, and his commentary felt disjointed (which I’m sure is one of the reasons I never had a desire to imbibe). Seeing some of this footage again after all these years, it still sounds profoundly abstract to the point where it’s almost nonsensical to me, but I can enjoy it more now in hindsight as an “experience.”

After the credits (for the ‘80s British telley show?), there is an overly brief segment that is apparently added on, of the newspaper headline of Lennon’s murder and a quick snip after it, lasting no more than 2 minutes total. This, I would have liked to see more of, actually.

John Lennon was an enigmatic public figure, who some folks hated (like my dad, who thought he was a communist and/or rabble rouser), and others adored him as a demi-deity. Either way, he was one of the central public figures of his time, and beyond. This DVD is a fine way to explore the different sides of the Beatle, the figure, the man.

* * *
A John Lennon story unrelated to the video:
A friend of mine (whose name I will add if he agrees) in New York was listening to Alex Bennett’s radio show late one night, and Bennett gave out Lennon’s personal phone number to his Greenwich Village apartment that he shared with May Pang. My buddy, then in his very young teens, called the number, expecting to get a butler or secretary. The phone is picked up. “Hello” “May I speak to John, please.” “Speaking.” Recognizing the voice, my pal panicked, and hung up. Yep, he hung up on John Lennon.

Bonus video by the great Ed Hamell (aka Hamell On Trial):


  1. John Leenon lived with Yoko in Greenwich Village 1971-1973.

    He lived briefly on 52nd street with May Pang in 1974.

    please get your facts straight.

  2. You proved you know more about John Lennon's personal life than I do, in 2010. Congrats. And thanks for the correction (I actually don't mind it...usually).