NYFF 2010. Michael Epstein's "LennonNYC"

"In two weeks' time, on 9 October 9, John would have been 70," writes Richard Williams, former deputy editor of Melody Maker and current chief sports writer for the Guardian, in today's Observer. "On 8 December 8, it will have been 30 years since his death. The remains of the record industry he helped create, its pistons still warm from the fevered launch of the Beatles Remasters series and the Beatles: Rock Band video game a year ago, is cranking itself up again. Next week, the troubled EMI Music will put on a happy face and issue not just remastered versions of eight existing Lennon solo albums, but a bunch of new compilations and boxes, squeezing yet more blood from the carcass of the group whose phenomenal success brought it the prosperity that has subsequently been frittered away."

What Williams eventually gets around to is a little playful speculation as to what Lennon would have made of "the many aspects of life that have changed since [he] celebrated his 40th and final birthday." We can't really know, of course, though one safe guess might be that he would have preferred to have been around to see his 70th. But for Vanity Fair, David Kamp's decided not to play it safe; he's written a piece based on the premise that Lennon survived the shots Mark David Chapman fired that night. His profile of the celebrity septuagenarian toodling around an alternative universe looks back on a divorce from Yoko Ono (1983), an endorsement of Ronald Reagan (1984) and, of course, a Beatles reunion (1987).

That's as far as I got. It's enough to send you scrambling back to the universe we're stuck with, where, on November 22, PBS "umbrellas the ex-Beatle into its American Masters series with a new two-hour documentary focusing on the final years of his life when he and Yoko Ono lived in New York," as Randy Lewis puts it in the Los Angeles Times. That doc, Michael Epstein's LennonNYC, screened last night at the New York Film Festival, the only title in the lineup, with the possible exceptions of Charles Ferguson's Inside Job and Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones's A Letter to Elia, actually set in the festival's hometown.

And it "mostly ends up presenting a sentimental, near-saintly portrait of him even when, in the mid-70s, he is at his lowest point mentally during his own 'lost weekend' living apart from Ono in Los Angeles," writes Kenji Fujishima at the House Next Door. "However squeaky clean, though, LennonNYC is nevertheless reasonably affecting if you can roll with its overly reverent take on Lennon's post-Beatles life — the way it paints much of that life as a long quest for a personal stability that finally arrives in the forms of his reconciliation with Ono and Sean's birth. For someone like me who wasn't alive during the decade covered, the film offers a serviceably evocative time capsule of a New York gone by."

Update, 9/29: "Epstein pads his documentary's running time with tired anecdotes about yippies, Nixon and drugs," finds Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "But the new interviews — especially with a warmly reminiscent Yoko Ono — are top-notch."

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