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John & Yoko DVD is the perfect package deal

Two vintage films that reveal different creative sides of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, "Imagine" and "Gimme Some Truth" have been packaged together on one 152-minute DVD with a handful of “bonus features.”

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Imagine/Gimme Some Truth
Eagle Vision, 152 minutes

By John M. Borack

Two vintage films that reveal different creative sides of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Imagine and Gimme Some Truth have been packaged together on one 152-minute DVD with a handful of “bonus features.” Both films have been frame-matched to the original negative, with each frame hand-cleaned and restored. In addition, the soundtracks have been remixed (Imagine) and remastered (Gimme Some Truth) in 5.1 surround sound. Considering the original footage is now close to 50 years old, both films look good, if a bit grainy.

Imagine (which had its original TV premiere just before Christmas 1972, with clips later included in the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon) is an experimental, arty piece; its 83 minutes are filled with quick cuts and often surreal images, set to music from Lennon’s iconic Imagine album, as well as Ono’s Fly. In the disc’s notes, Ono admits, “I was influenced by the avant-garde underground films, vaguely thinking in terms of directors like Jean-Luc Godard.” In the film, Lennon admits to often “making it up as we go along.”

Shot in England and New York, the film’s visuals include seemingly random scenes such as the couple strolling through the mist at their UK estate, Tittenhurst Park; Lennon sitting on the toilet reading, as well as tossing a basketball and partying with the likes of Miles Davis and Andy Warhol (set to the tune “Crippled Inside”); Lennon sitting with Ono at an all-white chess set dressed in black as her spacy vocal gymnastics provide the soundtrack; and Lennon, resplendent in a purple suit, sniffing one of Ono’s shoes. Much of this can be seen as self-indulgent—and any semblance of continuity or an actual storyline is conspicuously absent—but it’s interesting, nonetheless. A good portion of the film finds the Lennons looking somewhat detached if not downright disinterested, excepting the scene set to Lennon’s tender “Oh My Love,” where the couple looks very much in love.

Gimme Some Truth, produced and directed by Andrew Solt, makes a nice companion piece to Imagine; for the most part, it’s a “fly on the wall” glimpse into the recording of the Imagine album, with Lennon, Ono and a surprisingly focused co-producer Phil Spector working in the studio with a group of talented musicians and engineers. Highlights include Lennon’s asides regarding some of the album’s tunes: for example, after performing a solo rendition of “Imagine” on piano for a few of the musicians, he remarks, “That’s the one I like best.” (He also good naturedly describes “Crippled Inside” to some visitors as “very corny country and western��� and mentions that the electric piano on “How Do You Sleep?” is reminiscent of the sound on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone.”)

George Harrison appears several times throughout the film, laying down guitar on “Oh My Love” and the aforementioned “How Do You Sleep?” among others. (He also makes a crack about “The Fab Three,” an apparent dig at Paul McCartney, the well-known recipient of Lennon’s lyrical ire on “How Do You Sleep?” which features a mean Harrison slide guitar break.) Another well-known segment from the film finds Lennon chatting with a mentally disturbed fan who showed up at Tittenhurst Park thinking that Beatles songs were speaking directly to him. After setting the young man straight, Lennon graciously invites him inside for a bite to eat. Considering the way in which Lennon met his demise, this scene is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, and is one of the centerpieces of a consistently entertaining, engaging, and sometimes witty film.

The bonus features include a photoshoot (portions of which were used in the Imagine film) with photographer David Bailey, where Lennon’s future mistress May Pang can be seen; other than that, it’s not very illuminating. Much more interesting are the three raw studio outtakes of “Jealous Guy,” “How?” and “Gimme Some Truth.” These were shot with two cameras—one in the studio and the other in the control room—and are notable for Lennon’s unadorned, singularly passionate lead vocals. They serve as a fitting reminder that the Imagine record was the creative pinnacle of John Lennon’s solo career.

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