October 8, 2010

John Lennon: A Character Study

Saturday marks the 70th birthday of John Lennon. It comes as no surprise that in celebration all of Lennon's solo efforts are being re-released along with a complete box set. Also being released this weekend, to a limited number of theaters is Nowhere Boy, a biographical look at Lennon's formative years. In the film, Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson portrays Lennon as a teen growing up in Liverpool, yearning for a normal family, and escaping into art and rock 'n roll. Johnson certainly isn't the first to portray Lennon, young or old. In celebration of Lennon's 70th and the film, we take a look back at the many portrayals of Lennon on the silver screen.

8. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - John Lennon, as played by Paul Rudd
Paul Rudd's John Lennon is more of a spoof than an actual portrayal. In Walk Hard, a send up of rock 'n roll bio-pics, Rudd dons a dirty blond wig and the famous loop glasses, in a hilarious cameo appearance. Rudd in this get-up looks so much like Lennon that you couldn't even recognize him. The rest of the Beatles are there, with Jack Black as Paul, Justin Long as George, and Jason Schwartzman as Ringo.

7. I'm Not There - John Lennon, as played by Johann St-Louis
Could I'm Not There be called a bio-pic? For fans of Bob Dylan, this movie rings true to form. I'm Not There is split into six different parts, with six different actors, each playing six different facets of Dylan's life and public image. The most memorable being Cate Blanchett who portrays Dylan as "Jude Quinn" between 1965 - 1966, a time when Dylan was touring the U.K. The use black-and-white in these scenes harkens to D.A. Pennebaker's documentaries of Dylan. The scene with the Beatles and Lennon is a quick one, but it stands out, as we see Quinn smoking pot with the Fab Four. Dylan is known as introducing marijuana to the Beatles, and Lennon is featured quite prominently in Pennebaker's Don't Look Back.

6. Chapter 27 - John Lennon, as played by Mark Lindsay Chapman
Chapter 27 details the final days and hours leading up to Mark David Chapman's murder John Lennon outside the Dakota Building in New York City, where Lennon lived. The title mainly refers to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that fueled Chapman's obsession, and inspired his deed. The book has 26 chapters, but Chapman saw Lennon's death as a continuation of the story. In an eerie coincidence, the actor playing Lennon in the film, shares the same name as Lennon's murderer. This similarity once prevented actor Chapman from landing an earlier role of portraying Lennon in a 1985 TV movie about Lennon and Yoko Ono.

5. Two of Us - John Lennon, as played by Jared Harris
Produced by VH1, this TV movie finds Jared Harris taking on John Lennon, against Aidan Quinn's near-perfect Paul McCartney. The film chronicles a fabled--yet real, more or less--meeting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney six years after the break up of the band; the two coming "this close" to making an impromptu appearance on Saturday Night Live, after Loren Michaels promises $3,000 to reunite the Beatles on his program. While the two did meet up and actually watched SNL that night, and did toy with the idea of heading to 30 Rock, the movie was set up more as a character study--how fans would imagine a post-Beatles meeting of Lennon and McCartney would be.

4. Forrest Gump - John Lennon, as played by Joe Stefanelli
In a comical scene, we see Forrest Gump on the Dick Cavett Show. He just got back from Vietnam, and not only did he receive the Medal of Honor, but he also mooned the President. Of course, Cavett would want Gump on his program. On the show, Gump meets Lennon, who in real life, made several appearances on the show. With that footage, director Robert Zemeckis was able to splice Gump into the Dick Cavett Show, with Dick Cavett and Joe Stefanelli on hand to fill in the scene and add the new lines. Gump, then famously inspires the lyrics to Lennon's 1971 hit "Imagine."

3. Backbeat - John Lennon, as played by Ian Hart
Backbeat chronicles the early days of the Beatles as they rocked through Hamburg, Germany, focusing more on the relationship with Stuart Sutcliffe (the former bassist) and John Lennon. Ian Hart, who portrayed Lennon in this film, was no stranger to Lennon's shoes, having played him earlier in, The Hours and Times. While Paul McCartney blasted Backbeat, critics praised Hart's perfect portrayal of Lennon.

2. Yellow Submarine - John Lennon, as voiced by John Clive
A sort of psychedelic Fantasia with Beatles music, the animated Yellow Submarine was a box office smash when it was released in 1968. The Fab Four originally distanced themselves from the project, but upon seeing a cut of the film, they were impressed and agreed to appear in the flesh, in an epilogue. Their animated counterparts were voiced by actors--John Clive filling in for John Lennon--but the original music, with the Beatles actual vocals, was the real star of the film. A 3-D animated remake is currently planned for a 2012 release.

1. A Hard Day's Night & Help! - John Lennon, as played by himself
Of course, who's better to portray John Lennon than John Lennon, himself? Through the acclaimed A Hard Day's Night and the lesser Help!, Lennon defined his public persona as a snarky, often wise-cracking leader of the band. The John Lennon we see on screen is actually not that far off from the John Lennon we meet throughout his career in various interviews.

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