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DVD Review: John Lennon: Rare and Unseen

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During an interview with TV host David Frost, John Lennon describes a project with wife Yoko Ono as being "a portrait, but on film." This phrase also appears on the cover of the DVD John Lennon: Rare and Unseen, a collection of rare interviews, concerts, and other clips ranging from the Beatles-era to his early solo career. However, filmmakers have eluded fully capturing Lennon's complex personality, and this video fails to provide a substantive glance into his psyche. Instead, it is a disorganized collection of clips interspersed with interviews of Lennon friends and fans.

Rare and Unseen contains footage from a 1969 special, Man of the Decade, as well as the Frost interview and other shows such as Aquarius and Weekend World. Unfortunately none of these clips are played in their entirety, instead scattered in brief segments throughout the DVD. Most collectors will have seen these videos, although they may be new to more casual fans. Some clips appear in greater length, however, such as the Beatles press conference addressing the "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy, or a 1966 interview with the Fab Four discussing their disastrous Manila trip. No original music is included on the DVD, so clips featuring the Beatles performing in concert are silent.

Scattered throughout Rare and Unseen are interviews with Phil Collins (who admits never having met Lennon, so his appearance in this DVD is questionable), Colin Hanton (member of Lennon's first band, The Quarrymen), and Tony Barrow, the Beatles' press officer, among others. Only Barrow provides an iota of insight into Lennon's personality, admitting that he had a difficult time getting to know the musician. Calling him "insecure," Barrow explains that Lennon had a hard time trusting people.

The various clips are presented out of order, both thematically and chronologically, so the DVD resembles a jigsaw puzzle with crucial pieces missing. One interesting aspect, however, is how Lennon's optimism shines through in some interviews. He expresses great hope for the future and urges young people to become involved and help improve the world. Pessimists, in his words, "don't stand a chance, because they can't beat love." But this exemplifies just one aspect of his personality, and other clips only hint at the sometimes tormented artist within. A press conference circa 1966 shows a clearly bored and frustrated Lennon, obviously wanting to be anywhere but in that room. Making grotesque faces and saying cryptic comments also shows his willingness to buck authority. But other journalists strive to understand him; watching a clearly confused Frost try to follow Lennon and Ono's ramblings about art is greatly amusing.

Longtime fans will find many subjects covered on this DVD very familiar, such as the aforementioned "bigger than Jesus" controversy, the Manila stop on their world tour, and the Lennon and Ono bed-in for peace. Some of these clips demonstrate how the public seemed to fear the Beatles and Lennon at times, viewing them as a possibly unhealthy influence on young lives. Yet Lennon's frequent optimism, his emphasis on nonviolence, and his frequent pleas to get involved underlie those concerns.

John Lennon: Rare and Unseen provides a greatly fragmented portrait of the legend, and includes all-too-brief glimpses of some rare footage. Collection completists may be interested in adding the DVD to their libraries, but those looking for a more nuanced portrait may want to search elsewhere.

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