Saturday, February 16, 2008

Levitan on Lennon and Love

It was May 26, 1969, where five months before, the Beatles played their last live concert at the rooftop of the Apple Records building for free; the concert that was the culmination of their last film which was to be titled "Get Back", but was later changed to "Let It Be". The film was intended to be a documentary about a band getting back to its roots; however, it showed the most popular and revered band in the world disintegrating right before their very eyes. It was the time that marked John Lennon's flight, together with Yoko Ono, away from rock and roll toward a more ambitious and adventurous form of music, the music of future generations.

John and Yoko's union, and their subsequent marriage, was met with disfavor by most Beatle fans worldwide. It was in one of those unflattering news reports that Yoko broached the idea to John for them to send a message about what they felt the world was leading to. So rather than just sit idly by, the couple launched a "Bed-in for Peace" on their honeymoon, leaving their honeymoon suite open to the media to document their message of ending all wars. They traveled to several cities in Europe and the Americas to promote this message of Peace. In one of his press statements John said, " Its what we'd been saying all along. We said All you need is Love, now we're saying Give Peace a Chance".

On this fateful day of May 26, John and Yoko were in Toronto, billeted at the King Edward Hotel. A 14 year old Jerry Levitan, sneaks into the hotel room of the famous couple pretending to be a reporter, determined to interview the ex-Beatle. Armed with his brother's super 8 camera and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, he elicits a good laugh from John Lennon who nevertheless asks him to stay. The result was a 40 minute interview of John Lennon on love, peace, and the future generations who would be taking the reins of government and influence the direction of the world. It was on this day that John Lennon tapes a pre-bed-in recording of Give Peace a Chance.

Jerry Levitan convinced John and Yoko to visit Montreal and meet then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, Canada's capital. The material he taped lingered in his possession for 39 years, until last year when he decided to make a documentary animated film about the event. The 40-minute interview was reduced to 5 minutes and interspersed with animated images to provide relevant visuals. Jerry Levitan is now a Toronto based Lawyer. His 5 minute documentary entitled "I Met The Walrus" is nominated in this years Academy Awards under best documentary film.

Very little has been released about the contents of the interview and those that were included in the documentary. However, the producers of the film expressed that it contains profound elements of John Lennon's character and his views of the world; together with a message for the succeeding generations in charting their future.

Clearly, John Lennon's message of peace was for the future of the kids that would follow from his own generation. It therefore made a lot of sense for him to speak about this idea to the very audience he was targeting. Levitan was in the right place at the very precise moment when the youth was foremost in Lennon's mind. Knowing that he may have made a mess of things in certain ways, he wanted to make a correction, like the Catcher in the Rye, that none of the kids that would rise after him would make the same mistakes.

Lennon's struggle in his youth, until he withdrew from the Beatles, is well documented in the Beatles Anthology, where his lifestyle and his music mirrored the confusion and frustration of the era; and his search for meaning and substance to his existence. But his transformation as a messenger for peace can be plotted from the point of his simple life as a house husband, understanding his own humanity; and in his utopian wish for a peaceful world for mankind in his song Imagine. It is in this context and in-between periods when Jerry Levitan made his now almost famous interview.

What would have happened if Levitan released the interview after John's death? Would the world have changed? Would the youth of the 80s have been moved by its contents? Would we have avoided the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, or 9/11? We'll never know. But the use of animation tends to trivialize whatever serious content the recordings have. Furthermore, taking away 35 minutes from the material may leave only John's wit and humor being strewn around to entertain a young fan.The hype is intended to encourage viewing. Five minutes to view what has been hidden for 39 years is not too long, it could be well spent.

Should this film win the Oscar, part of the tribute should go to John Lennon, for if he threw Levitan out, he wouldn't be enjoying his days of fame 39 years later. Should the film be un-entertaining and uninspiring, baby boomer Beatle fans could sue him for breach of promise and wasted time. He would wish that he threw out the tapes together with the stale left-over pizza and cockroach infested pasta he had for midnight snack on that night after the interview.



Anonymous said...

Five minutes of animation is less than a teaser, how can anything of serious import be imparted here?

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...


What the reductions in time may have done is to focus on snippets of messages by John Lennon. A short TV interview of any personality is capable of sending a provocative message in a lot less time. Five minutes of these messages, or even less, is ample time for some critical comments.

However, I too have certain misgivings because of the hype and the very limited release of information. It remains to be seen, I guess; and it is exactly what the producers want. --Durano, done!