Wednesday, November 07, 2007
In a piece titled “The Movie Camera Turns on John Lennon’s Murderer,” the December issue of the British music magazine Mojo acknowledges the truth of what I’ve been saying in this blog since January 2006: The title of the film Chapter 27, starring Jared Leto as Mark David Chapman, and Lindsay Lohan as Jude, a Lennon groupie, could only have come from “Chapter 27” of my Lennon biography Nowhere Man.
Both Chapter 27 and another film about Chapman, The Killing of John Lennon, are, according to Mojo, scheduled for release in England on December 7, 2007, the day before the 27th anniversary of Lennon’s assassination.
Crediting Nowhere Man—“Rosen’s compelling account of Lennon’s lost Dakota years”—with being the first “extended extrapolation of the uncanny numerological connections” between Lennon and his killer, deputy editor Andrew Male writes: “Following a labyrinthine series of legal ding-dongs with the Lennon estate, the book finally emerged in 2000 complete with a coda, a ‘Chapter 27’ which connects the numerological meaning of 27—‘the triple 9,’ of profound importance to John Lennon—with Chapman’s belief that killing Lennon would allow him to disappear into the unwritten chapter of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.”
The article also notes that Chapter 27 does not fully explain its title; that an online petition group has been trying to pressure movie theaters not to show the film; and that The Killing of John Lennon, an independent film written, directed, and financed by Andrew Piddington and starring Jonas Ball as Chapman, is the superior movie.
(According to recent press reports, Chapter 27 is scheduled for theatrical release in the U.S. in March 2008, and Peace Arch Entertainment, the film’s producer, has just signed an agreement with Genius Products Inc. to distribute the DVD in North America.)
Finally, the Mojo article points out that the price of Nowhere Man in the U.K. is £9.99—a triple 9 that not even I ever noticed before.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
The Killing of John Lennon
Written and Directed by Andrew Piddington
Starring Jonas Ball
Let’s get this out of the way right now for the legions of Beatles fans who believe that this movie should never have been made. These fans, as I understand it, are outraged not only that the movie exists, but that it’s being shown at film festivals and that it’s been getting glowing reviews since it premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last August.
The Killing of John Lennon, which made its U.S. debut this week at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, is not meant to please Beatlemaniacs. It’s not meant to be in “good taste.” It’s not even meant to be entertainment in the traditional sense of the word. It is, rather, a difficult, disturbing, and at times nauseating movie to watch, even if you never cared about the Beatles or Lennon, even if you weren’t yet born on December 8, 1980, and even if you have little sense of who Mark David Chapman—played with chilling accuracy by Jonas Ball—was, what he did, and why he did it.
Why did Chapman do it? Because he was an emotionally disturbed and probably insane individual. He wanted to steal Lennon’s fame, his identity. He saw himself as the reincarnation of Holden Caulfield, the hypocrisy-hating narrator of J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of disaffected youth, The Catcher in the Rye. Chapman thought Lennon was a phony who deserved to die for misleading a generation. And, as I said in my own John Lennon biography Nowhere Man, he thought that if he killed Lennon, he’d write Chapter 27 of Catcher in Lennon’s blood—Catcher ends on Chapter 26—and literally disappear into the pages of the book.
Most of this is very well explained in the movie.
But let me make one other thing really clear, too: Writer/director Andrew Piddington has chosen to show the act of murder in graphic slow motion. Chapman’s five bullets, fired at close range, are seen tearing apart Lennon’s flesh amidst a shower of blood, in the archway of the Dakota, as the ex-Beatle and his wife, Yoko Ono, are returning from a recording session.
So what is this filmmaker up to? Piddington has said that he wants his movie to generate “controversy, adverse criticism, and scorn.” Well, that may be his marketing plan, so to speak. But he’s also said that it was his intention to put on-screen an unflinching presentation of the truth as seen through Chapman’s eyes, as he goes from his dead-end job as a security guard in Hawaii to the aftermath of the murder and his solitary confinement in Attica. Piddington accomplishes this by basing his impressionistic and at times surreal screenplay on the murderer’s journals, statements he made to the police and psychiatrists, interviews, depositions, and court transcripts. The director says that there’s nothing in the script that he didn’t corroborate three times.
That’s an almost impossible standard to employ for any work of journalism, especially for a documentary-like feature film shot on a miniscule budget of $500,000. But it perhaps explains why a number of well-known events and crucial bits of information are missing from the movie. They include:
- Chapman’s belief that his head and the walls of his room are populated by a civilization he calls the “little people.”
- Chapman, on his flight to New York from Georgia, sees Lennon on the cover of the November 1980 Esquire magazine, and after reading the article describing the ex-Beatle as little more than a rich businessman, becomes even more enraged by Lennon’s “phoniness.”
- Chapman meets John’s son Sean and his governess in front of the Dakota.
- Chapman, in his hotel, reads the January 1981 Playboy interview with Lennon and learns that sometimes he hires fans off the street to work for him.
- Chapman asks Lennon for a job as Lennon autographs his record album.
- Chapman, on the morning of the murder, sees Mia Farrow walk in front of the Dakota and takes that as yet another sign that he should kill Lennon. (Farrow played Rosemary, who gives birth to the devil in the Dakota, in the film Rosemary’s Baby.)
The Killing of John Lennon, shot on location in New York, Honolulu, and Decatur, Georgia, is a minor miracle of genuine independent/guerrilla filmmaking and should be commended as such. It couldn’t have been easy for Piddington to shoot in front of the Dakota, and that’s undoubtedly why many scenes that in real life took place on the sidewalk directly in front of the building were staged down the block or across the street. And, presumably, it was beyond the limits of Piddington’s budget to shoot the crowds of Lennon fans that haunted the Dakota daily, their numbers swelling after Lennon released Double Fantasy, the album that marked his return to the public eye after five years of seclusion.
And even with its numerous anachronisms—the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, modern subway turnstiles, and the occasional 21st century car—the film doesn’t look cheap; it looks real, and real scary. If anything, The Killing of John Lennon serves as an illustration of the problems associated with low-budget filmmaking and how they can be creatively overcome by a determined and talented filmmaker.
The Killing of John Lennon is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival on Fri., May 4, 5:30 PM, at the Pace University Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts (3 Spruce Street between Park Row and Gold Street). This review, as well as reviews of other films from the festival, can be found at The Looseleaf Report.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Christine Loss/Courtesy of New Line Cinema
Ten days ago I called the Howard Stern Show in response to a comment that Stern’s soundman, Fred Norris (or somebody pretending to be Norris), posted here inviting me to speak on the show about the Chapter 27 boycott. The intern whom I chatted with had never heard of Chapter 27 or any boycotts. But he did say that somebody would “check it out” with Norris.
As the show has yet to return my call, I can only assume (until proven otherwise) that “Norris’s” comments about my previous two postings are forgeries. By all appearances these notes are an attempt by the publicity junkies at Boycottchapter27.org to scam their next media fix. Because it’s become increasingly clear that, aside from the boycotters themselves, the only people who care if Chapter 27 is picked up for theatrical distribution in the United States are the filmmakers, the Peace Arch Entertainment stockholders, and a handful of hardcore Jared Leto fans.
The “15 minutes” of fame allotted the boycott and the film have expired. If anybody’s still talking about Chapter 27 a few months from now, they’ll probably be saying, “The boycott was better than the movie.” Already, bloggers and critics have moved on to trashing the next numerology movie, The Number 23, which, unlike Chapter 27, at least goes to the trouble of explaining its title.
Yet, as the boycotters assume their rightful place as a footnote to the history of bad films about numbers, they refuse to see the obvious: Chapter 27 hasn’t been picked up for distribution not because of their headline-generating assault on free expression, but despite it—which is an indication of just how fatally flawed the film must be. If I were to venture a guess as to why nobody’s yet expressed a willingness to bring Chapter 27 to a theatre near you, I’d say: Probably because Lindsay Lohan’s limited to 10 minutes of screen time, and no distributor believes a mass American audience is going to shell out 11 bucks each—the current price of a ticket in Manhattan—to look at a fat Jared Leto play a despicable character, no matter how transcendent his performance might be.
Meanwhile, over at the Peace Arch Entertainment business forum, disgruntled PEA investors, as reasonable and well-mannered a group of people as you’ll find on any board in cyberspace, have been analyzing Chapter 27’s aesthetic and financial problems. Though they’re deeply disgusted by the toxic ignorance of the boycotters’ spam-like postings on their site, they think that the boycott itself is a joke that, if anything, has been helping the film—just not enough to put it over the top. And they predict that somebody will eventually pick up Chapter 27—but only after the hype dies down completely and a distributor can get it for a song. For their sake, I hope they’re right.
As for Me
This blog, now in its 14th month, has been an interesting, and at times creatively rewarding, experiment—my first serious foray into cyberspace. I started it because I believed that Chapter 27’s writer/director Jarrett Schaefer had ripped off my title and possibly my concept from the Chapman section of my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man.
Beatles expert Roberto Ponce, one of Latin America’s foremost cultural critics, agreed that this was most likely the case. In a story about the film, “Mark Chapman, el Asesino de Lennon,” (Mark Chapman, the Assassin of Lennon) which ran in the December 9, 2005 issue of the prestigious Spanish-language newsweekly Proceso, Ponce, quoting extensively from Nowhere Man, explained how Chapter 27 is a metaphor for the murder—that Chapman wanted to write Chapter 27 of The Catcher in the Rye in Lennon’s blood—and how the number 9 and all its multiples numerologically connected Chapman to Lennon.
Then, in a story that ran in the New York Post, and was picked up by the Associated Press, on January 20, 2006, “Ono Tries to Halt Filming of Movie About Lennon’s Killer,” the writers Mandy Stadtmiller and Mary Huhn referenced Nowhere Man to explain the movie’s title. Why? Because Nowhere Man is the only book that fully explains it.
Disappointingly, Schaefer was either too amateurish or too ignorant to fully explain the meaning of Chapter 27—he completely ignored both the numerology angle and the metaphor of writing the missing chapter of The Catcher in the Rye in Lennon’s blood. All he did was “borrow” an obscure title to graft onto a film that has little to do with Chapter 27. Had he fully explained the title, and shown how it numerologically connected Lennon to Chapman, I suspect Chapter 27 would be a more interesting movie.
Of course, everything I’ve written here is little more than educated guesswork—I’ve not yet seen the film. (I only feel as if I had.) Like everybody else who’s interested, I’ll see it when it’s released, in whatever form it’s released in. Then, as promised, I’ll post my review. For now, however, I’m going to take a little vacation from blogging and go someplace tropical. We’ll see where things stand when I get back.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I thought that I heard him laughing.
Detail from photo in Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, Quick American Archives 2002. ©AP/Wide World Photos
Anybody who’s been reading this blog knows that I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to figure out how a seemingly clueless organization like Boycottchapter27.org engineered a PR coup that was the equivalent of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight pulling off The Great Train Robbery. How were they able to inject into a high-profile gossip column, with impeccable timing, news of their boycott and then have that story flashed around the world in a variety of languages?
- I suggested that they were a well-financed creation of Chapter 27’s producers, Peace Arch Entertainment.
- I suggested that they were evil PR geniuses who’d formed a maverick agency and were drumming up business with an ugly but effective postmodern publicity stunt.
- I suggested that they were a group of George Bush-style, ex-frat-boy publicity-hounds—who were fond of saying: “You’re either for the boycott or you’re for murder.”
But in my reverie, I’d overlooked the primary rule of solving any mystery: The simplest, most obvious answer is usually the right one. It’s now pretty obvious that Boycottchapter27.org is as misguided and naive as they appear to be. Ignoring the well-documented history of what happens when somebody tries to censor or repress in any way an “offensive” movie or other work of art, they handed executive producer John Flock a gift on a silver platter: a nasty, ongoing, headline-generating boycott for a movie of questionable quality that from the very beginning was in deep trouble with critics and fans and that has still not been picked up for theatrical distribution in the U.S. Flock, of course, accepted the gift graciously…and allowed his real public relations specialists to do what they’ve been doing so remarkably well for the past year: They put Chapter 27 back in the news, long after it should have died a natural death.
The boycott was a five-star success—for Peace Arch Entertainment. Even Yoko Ono loved it. Apparently forgetting that she’d coached Sean Lennon’s (former) BFF Lindsay Lohan in her role as Jude, a Lennon groupie who befriends Jared Leto’s Chapman a few days before the murder (Lohan says Ono gave her “the confidence” she needed to play the part), the reigning Queen of Media Manipulation told Entertainment Weekly, of the two thousand people who’d signed the boycott petition, “It’s very sweet of them. John would have thought so, too.”
Ono—whose spokesman, Elliot Mintz, is also on Paris Hilton’s payroll—understands perfectly well that all publicity is good, free publicity is better, and free, sympathetic publicity is best of all. She knows that two thousand people, in the scheme of things, is a miniscule number, and if the boycott accomplished anything, it probably made 200,000 people who couldn’t have cared less about the movie very curious to see it. And if John Lennon is paying attention somewhere, I think he’s laughing his balls off at the sheer absurdity of it all. (I’m finding it pretty funny myself, and I haven’t even seen the movie yet. Note to John Flock: Please send screener. Maybe I can help.)
The Howard Stern Show
One thing that did surprise me about the boycott was a comment that a reader posted about my last piece, “What Are They Going to Do for an Encore, Burn the Book?” That the comment was typical of the ridicule and innuendo that people associated with Boycottchapter27.org tend to post in response to anybody who disagrees with them wasn’t surprising. That it came from Fred Norris—who I later learned is a soundman and on-air personality on The Howard Stern Show—was astonishing.
Stern, whom I’ve listened to enough to respect and occasionally admire, is a veritable free-speech martyr, and it’s mind-boggling that anyone who works on the show and makes his living pushing the bounds of “good taste” could support a boycott that’s trying to repress a legitimate artistic endeavor, no matter how offensive he might find it. Norris, apparently, has learned little about the concept of free expression in the 28 years he’s been with Stern, and it makes me wonder if he’s ever read the Boycott Chapter 27 blog, which, last time I looked, seems to have transformed itself into an educational site, burying their hate speech under piles of academic verbiage that nobody’s ever going to read.
I’d said in response to Norris’s derisive comments about Nowhere Man that the book was a bestseller in four countries and three languages. Actually, it’s five countries; I’d forgotten that we’d killed in Colombia, too. (For the record, Fred, the other countries are the U.S., England, Mexico, and Japan. And though it sold out in Chile as well, there weren’t enough copies in print for it to technically qualify as a bestseller.)
A Final Word (I Hope) on the Boycott
People attempt to repress or censor works of art out of hate, fear, ignorance—and a deep-seated belief that they alone have been divinely anointed to judge the quality and intent of works that, more often than not, they haven’t seen. But these boycotts always fail, because their instigators ignore one of the most fundamental laws of human nature: The best way to get people to look at something is to tell them they can’t look.
And Now a Relevant Word from My Wife
My wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, blogs for Vanity Fair. Today she posted the following on their Oscar site, Little Gold Men:
Jackie Earle Haley’s Monster Performance
Quick plea: If you haven’t done so already, go see Little Children. Though I went for the reliable and wonderful Best-Actress-nominated Kate Winslet (who should get a special award for her willingness to forgo any discernible makeup), I was particularly moved by Jackie Earle Haley, nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In contrast to the somewhat cartoonish men (husband, lover) in the life of Winslet’s character, Sarah, Haley portrays neighborhood pedophile Ronnie as a complex, perplexing man, whose conflicting feelings and urges emanate from the large blue eyes in his cavernous face. Some of the best art shows us the humanity of people that society often deems monsters, and, though it’s extremely unlikely Haley will win the Oscar—what with Eddie Murphy’s perfect, pumped-up Dreamgirls performance—his portrayal of a tormented sex offender who loves his devoted mother and tries to pursue a “normal” life puts him in the Charlize Theron/Kevin Bacon/Jared Leto line of commendable, risk-taking actors. This film refuses to be predictable and pat in other ways as well; note the diverse reactions to a pedophile in the midst of a family-oriented suburban neighborhood. It also pulls the rug out from under us just as we’re about to—hey, just go see the movie.
Monday, February 12, 2007
In my previous posting “With Enemies Like This, Who Needs Friends?” I suggested that to generate publicity for their film Chapter 27—starring Jared Leto as Mark Chapman and Lindsay Lohan as Jude, a Lennon groupie—Peace Arch Entertainment created and continues to finance Boycottchapter27.org. Such a tactic is hardly farfetched. With the notable exceptions of O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, the Golden Rule of Hollywood is: All publicity is good, no matter what they say. Press coverage means interest, and interest means distribution deals and ticket sales. Any time the government or any group attempts to boycott or censor a work of art (and I use the term “art” in the broadest possible sense), everybody wants to find out for themselves what all the fuss is about. So they run to see it. It never fails.
The classic example, which I cited a year ago in one of my first postings, “Astute Readers, Aspiring Censors, and IMDB: The Chapter 27 Page,” is Richard Nixon’s 1972 attack on Deep Throat. The week the Watergate scandal broke, Nixon, in an attempt to distract the country, ordered the FBI to shut down every theatre showing the film, confiscate the prints, and arrest the filmmakers and actors on obscenity charges. The result: a mediocre porn flick, shot in a week for $25,000, became the 11th-highest-grossing film of 1973, with earnings of over $600 million, and Linda Lovelace became the world’s first porno “superstar.”
I also pointed out that long before Mark David Chapman was autographing copies of The Catcher in the Rye in his prison cell, the book was a perennial best-seller, thanks in part to the high school principals all over America who’d been banning it for 29 years.
And in 1999, of course, there was Rudy Giuliani’s attempt to shut down the “Sensation” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum because one of the paintings, Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary,” was partially composed of elephant dung, and the former New York mayor found it offensive. The result: 170,000 people, the most that had come to the museum in a decade, showed up to look at the painting.
Publicity is not an easy thing to come by. A person’s name (or the name of an organization) does not end up in a high-profile gossip column by accident. In general, if you want to see your name in boldface, you have to pay a well-connected PR firm between $3,000 and $10,000 per month to pull the required strings; some authors have been known to spend their entire advance on a month of PR—with no guarantees.
That the Chapter 27 boycott was the lead item in a gossip column in the New York Daily News just as Chapter 27 was being buried under an avalanche of less-than-kind reviews following its Sundance premiere, and that the story was then flashed around the world, seemed too well timed, and far too sophisticated a result for an organization whose blog, at best, rises to the level of coherent hate speech.
So I raised the question: Is Boycottchapter27.org an arm of Peace Arch Entertainment?
The people behind Boycottchapter27.org were not happy with this, and, predictably, they responded with an invective-and-innuendo-filled diatribe that questioned everything from my sexual orientation to my research methods. But they didn’t answer the question.
So I went to their blog and asked them flat out: Are you now taking, or have you ever taken, money from Peace Arch Entertainment, or any individual or corporate entity affiliated with Peace Arch Entertainment? A simple yes or no will suffice.
They said no, they weren’t taking money from Peace Arch Entertainment.
Whether this is true or not I can’t say. Though, for the time being, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are who they say they are and what they seem on the surface to be: a loosely knit coalition of Chapman-hating businessmen and lawyers, apparently based in Pompano Beach, Florida, who have a lot of free time, who have money to burn on PR, who want to destroy Peace Arch Entertainment as punishment for having made Chapter 27, and who routinely respond on their blog and elsewhere with hateful (and often incoherent) rants to any suggestion that their boycott is ill-conceived or counterproductive, or that people, if they’re so inclined, should just go see the movie and make up their own minds about it.
Since their boycott began a year ago, Chapter 27 has:
- Had its world premiere at Sundance.
- Received excellent reviews in Salon, The Hollywood Reporter, and Entertainment Weekly, the EW review a direct response to the “sour buzz” the boycott had helped create.
- Had its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.
- Been picked up for theatrical distribution in Europe, Asia, and South America.
So why then are these presumably successful businessmen and attorneys boycotting the film if their boycott is doing the exact opposite of what they claim to want? Why are they breathing life into a movie that most critics have written off as a vanity project lacking in insight?
They could be completely delusional, I suppose. Or they could be a newly formed PR agency, drumming up business with an ugly but effective postmodern publicity stunt. (They did offer to boycott my next book for $5,000.) Or more likely they’re just a couple of ex-frat boys into publicity for publicity’s sake: they enjoy reading about themselves in the tabloids, and that’s all there is to it.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
The first Chapter 27 reviews to appear, with the notable exception of the one in Salon, were negative in the extreme. Led by Roger Friedman of Fox News, they were the critical equivalent of a stomping and chain whipping administered by the Hell’s Angels. It seemed as if the bad reviews had opened an insurmountable lead. But then, spurred on by high-profile publicity about the Chapter 27 boycott—which created a backlash to the backlash—the film rallied in the second half. Critics writing for such magazines as Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter liked it, and put Chapter 27 back in the game.
Of the 12 reviews I’ve discussed so far (including the excerpts and links to the 10 posted below, one of which does acknowledge the overlooked numerology angle), the score is as follows:
- Thumbs Down: 8
- Thumbs Up: 3
- Thumbs Sideways: 1
The boycott publicity, in fact, was so well orchestrated that I began to wonder if Peace Arch Entertainment, the film’s producers, were funneling money to Boycottchapter27.org. If so, how much, and is there a reduced rate for independent journalists? Because if their prices aren’t too high, I’d like to hire them to organize a boycott of my next book. To steal a line from Hogan’s Heroes: “With enemies like this, who needs friends?”
One thing that both the critics and boycotters seem to be overlooking is that if the filmmakers have proven anything, it’s that they’re determined and probably a little crazy. And even if Jared Leto has to sit in a mailroom stuffing DVDs into envelopes, and Jarrett Schaefer has to type the address labels and seal the flaps with his personal spit, they’re going to find a way get Chapter 27 into the hands of its audience.
In any case, here are excerpts and links to 10 Chapter 27 reviews:
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly says: “The film may tell you little about Chapman that you didn’t already know, but Jared Leto, who gained 65 pounds for the role, disappears inside this angry, mouthbreathing psycho geek with a conviction that had me hanging on his every delusion.”
Duane Byrge of The Hollywood Reporter says: “Jared Leto is mesmeric as the bloated, deranged Chapman. It’s a brilliantly measured performance, evincing the tale of a madman through his own awful rhyme and reason.”
Dennis Harvey of Variety says: “Chapter 27 peers into the mind of a real-life, insane killer and finds almost nothing of interest.”
Scott Weinberg of Cinematical.com says: “I know it has something to do with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, but any other specifics are lost beneath waves of babble, tedium and pretense.”
Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says: “Writer-director Jarrett Schaefer never convincingly explains the demons that drove Chapman. The result is an unpleasant act of cinematic rubbernecking that celebrates a deserved nonentity.”
Kevin Polowy of Cinematical.com says: “Most of the ‘action’ takes place as Chapman waits and waits (and waits) for Lennon outside of his famous Dakota Building apartment in Manhattan, with an occasional argument between the voices in the assassin’s head to stir things up a bit.”
Nick Marshall of Cynematik says: “J. P. Schaeffer played it too safe.”
Comingsoon.net says: “Chapter 27 is worth seeing for Leto’s performance and the remarkable transformation that he went through to become Chapman, but the film isn’t that strong otherwise, and its slow, meandering pace tends to be its undoing.”
Eric D. Snider, who reports derisive audience laughter during at least one scene, writes on his blog: “There’s no insight, no analysis, nothing. Just Jared Leto talking to himself for 90 minutes.”
Jeremy Mathews, writing on Filmthreat.com, says: “Chapter 27 relies on the concept that following an insane person around for three days will provide you with great insight into his character. But if all the character in question does is make Catcher in the Rye references and speak in an annoying whisper that’s supposed to be sinister, it doesn’t really offer any insight into why he killed John Lennon.”
While we’re on the subject of reviews, here’s a link to a one about Nowhere Man that was published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Oakland University Journal. “Let Me Take You Down in a Cyn Sandwich: The Profoundly Paradoxical Mind of John Lennon,” by Brian Murphy, Emeritus Professor of English, compares Nowhere Man to six other Lennon books: Cynthia Lennon’s A Twist of Lennon and John, Yoko Ono’s Memories of John Lennon, Fred Seaman’s The Last Days of John Lennon, Elizabeth Partridge’s John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, and Marion Winik’s Above Us Only Sky.It’s a very good introduction to the ever-expanding genre of Lennon biographies.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Yoko Ono and David Geffen (right) emerge from Roosevelt Hospital just before midnight on December 8, 1980, moments after learning that John Lennon had died. From Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. ©AP/Wide World Photos
I was not among the critics at Sundance this week who saw the much anticipated premier of Chapter 27, the film about the murder of John Lennon, written and directed by Jarrett Schaefer, and starring Jared Leto as Mark David Chapman and Lindsay Lohan as Jude, a Lennon groupie. Like most people, I’ll have to wait until it opens in theatres (or goes straight to DVD). Then, I’ll post my review here.
In the meantime, like most people, I’ve been reading the reviews and trying to figure out if Chapter 27 is an artistic travesty or a minor masterpiece. Keeping in mind that even great critics have their prejudices and agendas, and that no review should be taken at face value, I’m going to examine two diametrically opposing Chapter 27 reviews, and see what, if anything, can be learned.
The critique that’s been getting the most attention is the superficial hatchet job written by Roger Friedman of Fox News, who’s had it in for the film since he read the script last year and wrote a piece called “Chapter 27: A New Springtime for Hitler,” a reference to the Nazi musical from the Mel Brooks movie and play The Producers, put on for the purpose of defrauding investors by staging the biggest bomb ever seen on Broadway.
Friedman’s awkwardly titled review, “John Lennon Murder a Bore in New Film,” predictably describes Chapter 27 as “exploitative…dull, unimaginative, repetitive and without any redeeming cinematic qualities,” and points out that “most of the audience struggled to remain awake during the film’s lethargic 90 minutes.”
Friedman also says that Schaefer did no research, not even making clear what Chapter 27 means. This, of course, is what I’ve been wondering about since I started keeping this blog a year ago. Did Schaefer blatantly rip off the title after reading the section called “Chapter 27” in my Lennon biography Nowhere Man, and did he then use my research and reporting to fully explain in the movie that Chapter 27 is not only a reference to The Catcher in the Rye ending on Chapter 26, but also to “the triple 9,” a number of profound importance to Lennon, who was obsessed with numerology, Cheiro’s Book of Numbers, and particularly number 9 and all its multiples?
Apparently, he didn’t do the latter. Judging by this and other reviews (which also comment on the film’s slow pace), it seems that Schaefer probably did rip off the title, but did so only half-understanding what it meant. (Or perhaps understanding what it meant but seeing no need to fully explain it.)
This is a serious flaw. Even if Chapman himself was unaware of how Chapter 27 numerologically connected him to Lennon, when Schaefer chose Chapter 27 as his title, it became his obligation as a storyteller to find a way to make the audience aware of its significance. He could have done it many ways—say, a scene where Jude and Chapman stand in front of the Dakota discussing Lennon and number 9, with the sign for 72nd Street (27 reversed) visible in the background. (The Dakota is on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West.)
Frankly, I’ve never understood why Schaefer didn’t call the film Let Me Take You Down, the perfectly adequate and understandable title of the Chapman biography he drew the plot from, but which fails to show how Chapter 27 plays into the heart of Lennon’s numerology obsession—an omission that inspired the entire Chapman section in Nowhere Man.
Friedman makes one other interesting point in his review: He says that without permission from J.D. Salinger, the film lifts “wholesale” passages from his novel The Catcher in the Rye. He wonders if the litigious Salinger will sue.
But Friedman’s use of the word wholesale is questionable. I suspect that after much legal wrangling, Schaefer limited his “borrowing” to fragments of not more than 25 consecutive words, which, arguably, stays within the limits of “fair use.” I say arguably because the precise meaning of “fair use” is open to interpretation, and Salinger’s lawyers may, indeed, be frothing at the mouth.
But does Salinger, who recently turned 88, really want to put his remaining energies into suing the producers, Peace Arch Entertainment, especially when he despises publicity and probably doesn’t need the money?
I don’t know. But I do know that the people responsible for Chapter 27 are very good at getting publicity, and a lawsuit brought against them by J.D. Salinger (or his estate) would keep the movie in the public eye for years to come.
Andrew O’Hehir, who writes for Salon, had a take on Chapter 27 so dissimilar to Friedman’s you’d think he’d seen a different movie. In his thoughtful and generally evenhanded review, “Inside the Mind of the Man Who Murdered a Beatle,” O’Hehir provides the filmmakers with at least two lines they could use as advertising blurbs:
- “Leto’s portrayal of [Chapman] is both merciless and sympathetic.”
- “Schaefer’s movie creates its own highly compelling world.”
Which is to say that O’Hehir liked the movie. In fact, he thinks it serves as an example of what filmmaking is all about, which is fair enough. But curiously, he makes no effort to explain what the title means, nor does he say if the film itself does—indicating that he either thinks the title is irrelevant, or everybody already knows what it means.
Unfortunately, he’s wrong on both counts. As I’ve been saying for the past year, the only people who fully understand the meaning of Chapter 27 are those who’ve read this blog or Nowhere Man.