Friday, January 26, 2007

Critiquing the Critics

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.


Anonymous said...

It being 27 01 07, and my being on your blog for the first time ever today, I just had to write.

After reading it a couple of times as a teenager, I got rid of Lennon Remembers back in the 1970s in an attempt to avoid heroes and celebrities. And now these days I am back fascinated with Lennon again. Didn't even know about the film, till I read about it on your blog. Will do my best to avoid the film. (Had comps for Back Beat when it screened all those years ago, and was foolish enough to go and then sit through the whole thing.)

Since poor John Lennon's dead, the story should have had a beginning and an end, but as I have been delving back into it during the past few days, miles away from Western pop culture, both geographically and mostly miles away in my head (or so I thought), I learn that Yoko has fairly recently been marketing John with records and DVDs, and I learn that you exist and wrote Nowhere Man (quite a few years ago). No end.

Now, I'll probably have to get your book. What I read tonight on your site and earlier today in the recollections of Pete Shotton and others' meshes well with the picture I perhaps vaguely had of Lennon and the one I am getting now.

(If you haven't read them, I recommend

What I still find fascinating about Lennon is that rare spark of his. It is visible in all kinds of YouTube interviews and performances. It is in his playfulness and also the apparent self-confidence.

Not knowing where to take those two gifts next, after having reached the top of what he had been aiming for, seems to have been part of his undoing. But even if he had known, bad luck or Fortuna got in his way.

Good night to you, Mr Rosen.

Anonymous said...

I saw coverage of the Jared Leto interview on the new movie, and I found out of any websites I've browsed that yours is the most interesting.
I admire you so much for writing a book that gives due respect to Lennon's memory and the place he has in the world, our lives, and his family's lives today. He lives on.
After reading all I've read today on the movie, I'm not excited. Freedom of speech, yes - respect for the dead, please, and immoralizing malice and ripping off ideas from a respectable author - no.
Any correspondence from you would be so appreciated! Good luck with what you're trying to do here.
Tasha Perry

Robert Rosen said...

Greeting from NYC, and thank you very much for posting your comments. I hope you do decide to buy “Nowhere Man,” and I hope to hear from you again after you’ve read it. I did my best to infuse the book with John Lennon’s spirit—his “rare spark,” as you call it.

I’m very familiar with Lady Jean’s Absolute Elsewhere site; I think it’s the best John Lennon resource on the net. If you haven’t already read it, may I suggest you check out the interview she did with me a few years ago. Here’s the link:

In 1994, my wife and I spent 10 days in Prague, where I believe you’re writing from. It was a beautiful, magical, mysterious city, and we had an amazing time. We hope to return someday.

Robert Rosen said...

I’m always delighted to hear that people are enjoying my book and my blog. Aside from pointing out that the title “Chapter 27” came from “Nowhere Man,” blogging is simply a great way to stay in touch with readers all over the world. Please feel free to send me e-mail, if you wish. Just click on “View my complete profile” on the main page and then click on “Email.”

Anonymous said...

The Astucia Report: John Lennon's Security on the Night he was Murdered

To listen to program, go to

and click "Astucia Report" in the upper left corner.

Anyone who runs a radio station is welcome to include the 90 minute
talk show in their programming.

The Astucia Report: John Lennon's Security on the Night he was

Hosted by Salvador Astucia

Tue. Febuary 6, 2007:

90 minutes

Synopsis of Show:

Salvador Astucia talks, via telephone, with the communications director of Manhattan real estate management firm, Brown, Harris and Stevens, the company that managed the Dakota condominium complex where John Lennon lived and was murdered on Dec. 8, 1980. Astucia also calls and speaks with a vice-president of the Wackenhut Corporation because he suspects Lennon's true killer, Jose Joaquin Sanjenis Perdomo, was placed by Wackenhut as a security guard (or doorman) at the Dakota. Astucia asks the following questions to officials at Brown, Harris and Stevens and Wackenhut:

- Describe the nature of any business dealings between Wackenhut and Brown, Harris and Stevens, particularly those that may have occurred in December 1980(?)

- Provide all you know about the security guard/doorman on duty at the Dakota condominium complex when John Lennon was murdered? (Dec. 8, 1980 at 10:50 pm)

- How does Wackenhut respond to the allegation (made by many people) that the firm is responsible for the murder of union activist and nuclear plant whistleblower Karen Silkwood?

- What was the nature of Wackenhut's business relationship with the late William Casey, former CIA director during the Reagan administration?

At the close of the show, Astucia explains how he determined that Jose Joaquin Sanjenis Perdomo was Lennon's true killer. Astucia also evokes the 1966 landmark Supreme Court decision of Miranda vs. Arizona which addressed the problem of police using coercion to extract false confessions from suspects. Astucia compares Mark David Chapman to other people who gave false confessions, like John Mark Karr, the man who recently confessed to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, but prosecutors declined to prosecute Karr because his explanation of the crime did not match known details of the case. Astucia also cites he
case of the Central Park Jogger, where four teenage boys confessed to raping and everely beating a 28-year-old Caucasian female investment banker jogging in Manhattan's Central Park, in 1989, only to have the true rapist confess years later. (Five boys were convicted of the crime, but only one denied any involvement.) Astucia notes the irony of the Central Park Jogger case because it was botched by the NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, the same people who sent Chapman to prison for killing Lennon.


Robert Rosen said...

It has been the policy of this blog to not delete any reader comments under any circumstances. For that reason I will not delete the above posting. However, since you are a known anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, I cannot allow you to use this blog to promote your views. If you post anything here again, I will delete it. And please do not send me any more e-mail.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Appears to me that years and years of repressed homosexuality have turned this "Salvador" character bitter and twisted. It's a shame, really.

Anonymous said...

are you the bob rosen who once worked with david hoffman?
david hoffman

Robert Rosen said...

Nope, not me.

Anonymous said...

How terrible and sad that all these murders are tolerated in a free society.

Does it get any more transparent than this?