Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Letters to Chapter 27

In addition to the comments readers post on this blog, I also receive numerous e-mails, generally of a longer and more complex nature. I always treat them as private correspondences. Recently, however, a reader granted me permission to post the letter that appears below. The writer has obviously put a great deal of thought into Chapter 27—perhaps more than I have—and has come up with a number of compelling, yet highly speculative, ideas about the film. The letter, of course, expresses opinions that are not necessarily my own.

In keeping with my policy of free speech for all, I will continue (when given permission) to post reader letters in this fashion, even if I differ with what they have to say. I would even, should the opportunity arise, post a letter from Yoko Ono’s spokesman Elliot Mintz, whom I suspect will disagree with some of the points raised in this critique.


McLennon Happy Meal

My name’s David, I’m a Lennon fan and an actor from London. In the 1970’s, a few friends of mine met Mark Chapman in the West End. He was hanging out at stage doors collecting autographs. One actor I know even has a photo Chapman sent him of the two of them together outside the show he’d just performed in. I’ve seen the photo—very unnerving.

I’m writing to say that I find your blog fascinating and that I’ve read Nowhere Man, too. The book gives you a real feel for John—an artist who changed so many things in the world, or at least showed us how we could effect change. Thank you for writing it and for seeing it through to publication. It seems to have cost you quite a lot.

As for Chapter 27, I think the film will be a complete failure, at least for people who want a true examination of Lennon, the murderer, and the murder itself. Since J.D. Salinger has not given permission, there will be no Catcher in the Rye voice-overs, which I think are integral to the plot. And since Yoko Ono has not given permission, there will be no Lennon music, either.

The movie seems to be primarily drawing on an incomplete psychological profile of Chapman borrowed from Let Me Take You Down, the book by that Jack Jones chap, who visited him inside Attica. Chapman, as you may have noticed, has a knack for PR, and like an old rock star, he talks about himself in the third person—which Jones dutifully repeats. To get an accurate picture of Chapman’s state of mind, surely you’d have to talk to his wife and his family, which Jones didn’t do.

But the worst problem, I think, is using Jude as a link between Chapman and Lennon. She’s just a marketing device to give the film a romantic subplot—a way to use this hot new young thing, Lindsay Lohan, to put some bums in the seats. This is grossly unfair to the real Jude, and quite simply incorrect historically.

A better solution would be to build on the truth: Use Paul Goresh as the link. He’s the amateur photographer who took the picture of Lennon signing Chapman’s Double Fantasy album. Both Goresh and Chapman were fans who became stalkers. I realize Goresh, a fat guy from New Jersey, isn’t sexy. But an actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman would be perfect for the role. The result would be a movie with more depth and character analysis that might teach us something about celebrity culture and obsession.

I know there’s artistic license, but the filmmakers also have to take some responsibility to at least tell the general facts that are known to be accurate. And if Lohan did meet Ono, and if Ono gave Lohan her blessing to do the film, then I think Yoko’s got final cut on a few sensitive areas that the movie may touch upon—like security.

Yoko, apparently, had scheduled a meeting for December 9 to talk about security. Her security chief, Doug MacDougall, had warned her the previous month that because they were now back in the public eye, they were running huge risks. But Ono either ignored his advice, or thought it wasn’t a problem.

John himself had said in BBC interviews, conducted on December 5 and 6, two days before the murder, how wonderful it was to walk around the city unmolested. Naively, he didn’t recognize that the situation had changed. Lennon, believing he was “of the people,” saw no point in security. He figured that it wouldn’t make a difference. First they shoot the bodyguards, he said, then they shoot the guy they’re protecting.

Most people probably don’t even know about the security situation, and if it’s shown in the movie, Yoko might be subjected to a huge backlash. Maybe the film will show that there was no way to stop Chapman, even with a team of bodyguards. (Personally, I think Chapman couldn’t have been stopped, and I believe Yoko is not to blame.) So, maybe Ono did ask that security issues not be discussed in the movie. Who can blame her?

Yet, the question remains: How much say does Ono have in the movie as a whole? As you well know, she’s notorious for shutting down (or attempting to shut down) “unauthorized” projects that have anything to do with John. (I’m sure the Chapter 27 producers read in Nowhere Man that it took you nearly 20 years to publish the book—they must have shat themselves.) All I’m saying is don’t perpetuate a myth that has little basis in reality. Your book shows John as a human being, with frailties. We respect, understand, and warm to him even more because of those weaknesses, and because he was able to achieve so much with all his insecurities. As the man said, “Gimme some truth.”

The problem that the filmmakers are facing is that without full permission on the various rights involved, they can only go the way of conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated rumors, and nonexistent romantic subplots, such as making Jude a major character. All this plays directly into Yoko’s hands, again allowing her to drip-feed us what she wants every few years, so we get only a taste of the man, and then it’s gone again. Sorry, but it’s crap, the way Yoko trots out this repackaged stuff, and the way her spokesman, Elliot Mintz—a man whom Lennon, as you know, had little time for—belches forth the cartoon peace and love and househusband stuff. We end with another McLennon happy meal, processed garbage for the masses.

There is enough real evidence available to comprehensively examine this terrible act and the protagonists without making shit up. Writer/director Andrew Piddington has apparently done this in his recently released The Killing of John Lennon. And, of course, you’ve done it in Nowhere Man—which is a great piece of work because it contains a lot of information that isn’t public knowledge. It’s a creative, evocative examination of Lennon, and more importantly, it’s inspired from a direct source. And you managed to do it even though Yoko made it as difficult as possible for you by not returning your journals for 18 years.

But people will go to see Chapter 27. I think it’ll be huge—if Yoko likes it. If she doesn’t, then her press machine will say it’s making money off a murdered family man and hero. And it’ll be buried. Let’s hope she doesn’t like it, and people (like you) will continue to dig out the truth and say, “This is the life of the real man.”