Give Peace A Song

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

When you think about it, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were to the late 60s and early 70s what Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, among other power couples of their ilk, are today. Of course, differences abound between the two: John Lennon was a consummate talent; and he and Yoko Ono embraced the media instead of scowling at them for invading their space. So open were John and Yoko, who documented their every move, they invited the world’s press into their hotel room on numerous occasions. On May 26, 1969 they flew to Montreal, Canada where they checked into Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. During their weeklong stay, they invited Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, Al Capp, and dozen of other luminaries and hangers-on to their Bed-In for Peace. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation filmed John and Yoko in bed, wearing their pajamas, playing music, pontificating on dozens of topics, and greeting over 100 people a day. Give Peace A Song, a new DVD from Universal, explores every angle and the behind-the-scenes happenings of that historic week John and Yoko extended an olive branch to the world in the midst of the chaos and confusion of the Vietnam War.

To substantiate John and Yoko’s intentions, the documentary examines the turmoil of the times. Nationwide protests, anti-war marches, and peace rallies inflamed the Nixon administration, which held firm on a situation growing worse with each passing day (sound familiar?). Few celebrities spoke out against the war, but John and Yoko unabashedly rallied and staged a number of events in the name of peace. The footage of Montreal’s Bed-In is erratic, yet illuminating. Masses of well-wishers drop in to pay their respects while the press corp took notes and snapped pictures. Lennon’s Sergeant-At-Arms, Apple press officer Derek Taylor, became so overwhelmed with the parade of guests he had bring in reinforcements to help maintain a semblance of order. Later on, Lennon decided he wanted to make a record, and all those in present joined in for a rousing reading of “Give Peace A Chance.” The song's ripple effect was enough to warrant a 20-minute segment on how it would become an anthem for the antiwar movement.

Supposedly, John and Yoko granted some 200 interviews in Montreal. There’s almost as many on this DVD, with everyone from Yoko Ono to Tommy Smothers to record executives and members of the media who were there. Then there’s Allen Radu, who masqueraded as a journalist in an effort to meet his hero John Lennon. He snuck in with a fake press pass and camera, and after being accosted by Lennon himself, ended up with a guest pass for the rest of the week. The bonus material on this DVD is priceless. There’s the “Peace Weekend” Interview from December 20, 1969. Lennon utters his protests against the war and denounces the use of drugs, while in a separate interview, he talks about his long hair. Whether he was sincere or simply caught in the moment, you have to respect his aspirations. Unfortunately, a press conference from the Ontario Science Center on December 17, 1969 isn’t quite as revealing. Recent interviews with three visitors to Room 1742 are also featured. André Perry, a Canadian producer, recounts getting the call to round up the equipment for Lennon’s impromptu recording of “Give Peace A Chance.” Singer Petula Clark talks at length about how she feels the Bed-In was like a lovely party. And Tommy Smothers fondly recalls how Lennon corrected his guitar playing on “Give Peace Chance.” While tons of Lennon footage has surfaced in the intervening years, Give Peace A Song is a captivating look at the former Beatles at his most visceral, a visionary who imagined a world without disparity, a divine presence who continues to hold sway over a dizzying portion of the populace.

~ Shawn Perry

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