John Lennon

In 1970, the Beatles won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score (a category still active, though now it’s called Best Original Musical and hasn’t been awarded since 1984) for Let It Be. So, this tribute makes perfect sense.

John Lennon did just about everything creative during his brief life, and if that whole Beatles thing hadn’t panned out (for example, if they hadn’t drawn George Martin as a producer, or Brian Epstein hadn’t taught them how to appeal to a wider audience than the basements in Hamburg dance clubs), he could have fallen back on his acting. While all of the Beatles proved they could act (particularly Ringo), only John had that wonderfully British surrealist sensibility that brought the world A Spaniard in the Works and delightful comic scenes like…

I have no evidence, but I am convinced this was a word-for-word interaction he had in real life.

That scene is from the cinéma vérité tour de force A Hard Day’s Night, which was made to cash in on the Beatlemania fad (EMI expected to make more from the soundtrack than the film itself) but is today recognized as one of the greatest films of the 1960s. John’s sardonic, quirky performance is the highlight of a film full of highlights, and although Ringo is a better actor and justly provides the dramatic fulcrum of the story, I don’t think A Hard Day’s Night would be the classic of British comedy that it is were it not for John.

A consummate comic performer, John would have been right at home as a member of The Goonies or Beyond the Fringe–he appeared a couple of times on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s early show, Not Only…But Also–and even though he hated Help! (commenting that the Beatles were extras in their own movie), the movie was the forerunner of the kind of absurdist humor that would find its peak in Monty Python a few years down the road.

This bit required Ringo to stay at home so as not to cause a time travel paradox when his 1974 self arrived to shoot the scene.

John got sick of being a Beatle around the first time they had to be chauffeured from a concert in the back of an armored vehicle, and when tensions in the group reached such a height in 1966 that they had to take an extended break from the group, he starred in his only non-Beatles film, How I Won the War. The film, also directed by Richard Lester, is a pitch-black, absurdist anti-war film, in which Lennon plays Musketeer Gripweed, a British army soldier who constantly clashes with his superiors due to his fascist political ideology. It fared poorly at the box office, but it’s one of my favorites, full of dark satire and surrealism, and definitely worth a watch. Just don’t expect a happy ending.

73628Unless you count John coming away from it with a new sense of optical style.

It was while waiting between scenes that John wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever,” definitely in his top five Beatles-era songs, which in turn led to this beautiful music video (sorry it’s shortened, blame Apple Corp.):

Fun fact: Every shot in this video is backwards, except the one of Paul jumping into the tree.

Of course, in the late 60s John met Yoko Ono, and began a dedication to social justice and peace that lasted the rest of his life.

On this date in 1980, John Lennon was murdered outside the Dakota apartment building, where he lived, in New York City. These days, every year on this night, hundreds gather in Strawberry Fields, a section of Central Park established in 1985 as a memorial to Lennon, to sing Beatles songs and pay tribute to the man and his memory. If you get a chance, stop by the next time you find yourself in the city in December. It’s well worth the biting cold, the often poor musicianship, and the occasional drunks…standing there, head bowed, during the moments of silence, followed by a quiet rendition of “Imagine” or “Across the Universe”, is a truly moving experience.