LennoNYC (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Mar 01, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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LennoNYC (Blu-ray Review)


Michael Epstein

Release Date(s)

2010 (December 6, 2023)


PBS (Via Vision Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B-

LennoNYC (Blu-ray)

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John Lennon lived most of the 1970s in New York City, where he felt free to move about, take walks with wife Yoko Ono, shop in stores, hail taxis, and not be hounded by the media and well-meaning fans. The 2010 American Masters PBS documentary LennoNYC, written and directed by Michael Epstein, is a portrait of the singer during this period.

Lennon loved New York City. In England, he and Yoko Ono were targets of cruel attacks by the British press. New York offered them a welcoming environment. We see Lennon getting back into a recording studio, after five years’ absence, to re-invent himself. We hear about the pleasure Lennon took from walking into a clothing store, browsing, trying on apparel and making a purchase himself. That was a big deal for him.

Living with Ono in Greenwich Village, he thrived on being in the arts capital of the world. The Village had a political energy, with frequent demonstrations critical of the Nixon administration, anti-war protests, and discussions arising spontaneously in the crowded streets. Lennon became friends with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, who recognized Lennon’s ability to raise awareness of their causes.

Realizing that the anti-war movement had “lost its bite,” Lennon became an anti-war activist. He also worked for social justice and participated in a concert to free two men in Ann Arbor, Michigan imprisoned for smoking a joint, which resulted in their release. For the 1972 presidential election, the first to be held after the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18, Lennon put his energy into a voter registration drive.

During this time, the Nixon administration wanted Lennon “booted out of the country” and the FBI attempted to silence him by instituting deportation proceedings. Lennon’s phone was tapped and he was followed to intimidate him into leaving the United States.

Lennon and Ono separated for a time and she went to Los Angeles to pursue her own career. This was a dark time for Lennon, and he began drinking heavily. The couple’s reconciliation led to a calm, happy period in his life. They had a son, Sean, and Lennon was happy to live quietly as a stay-at-home dad. Lennon returned to the studio when he felt he could be husband, father, and artist.

The film includes footage of many studio recording sessions, not only of songs but also of Lennon kidding around, inspiring the other musicians, enjoying the creative process. Members of Lennon’s backup band, Elephants Memory, and Elton John talk about collaborating with Lennon and how he thrived in creating and performing music.

Photographer Bob Gruen, who took many famous photos of John and Yoko during this period, speaks about Lennon’s down-to-earth personality. Dick Cavett recalls Lennon performing the controversial song Woman Is the Nigger of the World on Cavett’s talk show. Also included are home movies of Lennon and son Sean, as well as candid shots of Lennon, Ono and Sean out and about in the city they loved. During this relatively happy period, Lennon, after four years, obtained his green card, making him a permanent U.S. resident. Lennon’s last project was Double Fantasy, an album he and Ono recorded together.

Yoko Ono, sitting in front of a recording studio console, contributes her thoughts throughout the film. She discusses Lennon’s moods and his love of the artistic process in making music, and describes his last few years as the happiest he’d been in a long time. He was content as a new father, his deportation troubles behind him, and he looked forward to a happy future as a family man and musician.

The circumstances of Lennon’s death are downplayed. We see a fans’ vigil outside the Dakota, the apartment building where Lennon lived, but there’s no sensational footage or mention of the singer’s killer.

LennoNYC is composed of archival and contemporary interviews. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1. Dailies were processed by Technicolor labs. Quality varies. Some archival footage is grainy, while the interviews are crystal clear. The “talking heads”—Lennon’s musicians, Yoko Ono, Elton John, Dick Cavett—describe their interactions with Lennon through personal observations and anecdotes. The juxtaposition of older and newer footage is occasionally jarring, but the older material is worth including, even if less than pristine. Black & white photos are interspersed throughout. Director Epstein avoids overly familiar footage, giving the documentary a fresh look.

The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The music gives the film a lilt and helps keep it lively. The stereo separation is extremely good. Off-handed comments by Lennon picked up in recording sessions show us a lighthearted side of the singer. Concert footage contains waves of enthusiastic audience applause.

Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release from Via Vision include the following additional interviews:

Sailing (1:41) – On a boating outing, everyone got seasick except Lennon, so he had to pilot the boat to prevent it from capsizing.

Mission Impossible (3:12) – A musician received a call from a representative of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He would be picked up by sea plane in New York and brought to Glen Cove. Yoko On gave him two tapes and asked him if he wanted to be part of the album that would be Double Fantasy. He was sworn to secrecy.

NYC T-Shirt Photo (1:17) – Photographer Bob Gruen gave a New York City T-shirt to Lennon and took a series of rooftop photos of him wearing that shirt.

Newsmakers (1:01) – Gruen talks about Lennon being “in a better place” as a contented family man.

Juice Fast (2:06) – After Lennon and Ono recovered from a bad case of the flu, they went on a juice fast for 40 days. Always hungry, Lennon read books about food and healthy eating. One book he read discussed the proliferation of sugar in foods. Lennon learned about eating healthful, balanced meals.

Hong Kong (1:16) – When he traveled the world on a spiritual journey, Lennon was essentially on his own. He had previously traveled with an entourage, so ordering room service and fending for himself was something new. He felt anonymous walking around just like any average person.

Answering Machines (1:16) – When radio stations refused to play the song Woman Is the Nigger of the World, Lennon set up a battery of answering machines and telephones with a toll-free number so that people could call and hear the song.

December 8, 1980 (8:08) – Several individuals speak about how they reacted when they heard the news that John Lennon had been shot. People started to congregate in front of the Dakota, and the whole world was watching. Yoko One encouraged his friends to move on. Elton John arranged a memorial service in Australia to coincide with the New York service. Bob Gruen, Jack Douglas, Gary Van Scyoc, Andy Newmark, Earl Slick, and Klaus Voorman are featured.

LennoNYC is an engrossing documentary about the stateside life of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the 1970s, from the dissolution of the Beatles to Lennon’s murder in 1980. In chronicling the last nine years of Lennon’s life, director Epstein has combined archival footage, concert material, and interviews to provide a portrait of Lennon during this eventful time, when he was beset with political, artistic, and marital problems. Through all of this, music was a constant inspiration.

- Dennis Seuling



1515 Productions Limited, 2010, Abbie Hoffman, Adam Ippolito, American Masters, American Masters Pictures, Andy Newmark, Artemis Rising Productions, Bay Bottom News, Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc, Bob Gruen, Crew Neck Productions, Dakota Group, David Geffen, Deborah Peretz, DeepFocus Productions Inc, Dennis Elsas, Dennis Seuling, Dick Cavett, DOC Film Institute, documentary, Eagle Rock, Eagle Rock Entertainment, Earl Slick, Ed Barteski, Elliot Mintz, Elton John, Emma Pildes, Gary Van Scyoc, George McGovern, Geraldo Rivera, High Line Productions, Historic Music Library, Hugh McCracken, ITVS International, Jack Douglas, Jerry Rubin, Jessica Levin, Jim Keltner, John Lennon, Jon Wiener, Jonas Mekas, Julie Sacks, Klaus Voormann, KQED Public Broadcasting, LennoNYC, Leon Wildes, Malpaso Productions, May Pang, Merrywidow Films, Michael Cohl, Michael Epstein, music, NGL Studios, On-Screen Entertainment, PBS, Perfect Day Films, Prudence Glass, Public Broadcasting Service, Rainy Mountain Media, Raven Rouge, Red Envelope Entertainment, Rennie Davis, review, Robert Hilburn, Roy Cicala, RPM Television Productions, Sean Lennon, Spy Pond Productions, Stanley F Buchthal, Steeplechase Films, Submarine Entertainment, Susan Lacy, The Beatles, The Digital Bits, Thirteen for WNET, Thirteen Productions, Thirteen WNET, Tom Hayden, Turner Entertainment, Twin Cities Public Television Inc, Two Lefts Don't Make a Right, UnLadyLike Productions, Via Vision, Via Vision Entertainment, Vision Maker Media, Vulcan Productions, WNET Communications Group, Yap Films, Yoko Ono