7 January 2010

Lennon

There has just got to be more to life than ice and snow. Any moment soon, I am expecting a big woolly mammoth to come lurching down our road, tossing Corsas and Fiestas onto the snowy verge with his monstrous tusks. Anyway, today I decided to break out of our igloo and journey into Sheffield's city centre - always known as "town" by the local eskimos. I was going to The Showroom which is our city's only independent cinema.

I sat in the dark and soon the film came on - "Nowhere Boy" directed by Sam Taylor-Wood and only released at the tail end of last year. It's about John Lennon's life between 1955 and 1961 and is eminently watchable.
Only Japanese pilots still hiding in the jungles of Malaya and Borneo will not know at least some fragments of John Lennon's story - how he grew up with his Aunt Mimi in a fairly affluent part of Liverpool not far from Strawberry Field, how his unreliable mother Julia died young, how he met Paul McCartney, how he formed a band called The Quarrymen and how he became captivated by the newly emerging rock and roll music of middle America.
Above - scene from the film - Lennon and Julia at Blackpool. Below - A young John Lennon with the real Julia - his mother.
The film brings it all alive rather tenderly. Aunt Mimi is portrayed as a staid, emotionally repressed, snobbish and yet dependable figure in Lennon's life while Julia ably played by Anne-Marie Duff comes across as fun-loving but vulnerable. The actor who played Lennon, Aaron Johnson, bears only a slight physical resemblance to him but he convincingly conveys some of the torment and anger that coloured Lennon's youth.
Do you remember when the great white shark first rose from the sea in "Jaws"? The whole cinema jumped. There was a similar moment in this film when quite unexpectedly Julia is killed by a car. I listened to myself gasp with horror even though I knew that such a moment would occur somewhere in the film.
The movie's backdrop is nineteen fifties England with its austere postwar climate but also with a growing sense of emergent youth cultures such as the teddy boys. Young people are starting to define themselves in new terms and The Beatles are in the right place at the right time - ready to provide their restless generation with anthems to rally around.
I guess it was in the early eighties when my friend Tony and I travelled from Sheffield on a "Beatles Magical Mystery" coach excursion. We saw Aunt Mimi's house, some of the places where Paul McCartney's family had lived, the grand house with its surrounding trees known as Strawberry Field, the site of The Cavern Club, the bus shelter at the top of Penny Lane, Liverpool Art College where John and Stuart Sutcliffe were students and the job centre in Speke where, at the time, rejected Beatles drummer Pete Best was working. Not only did "Nowhere Boy" bring memories of that great day out back to mind but it also successfully showed the family circumstances which were fundamental in shaping Lennon's ambitions and his talent.
Surprisingly, songs and music never overwhelm the dramatic human story in this film but I would have liked it to end with Lennon's plaintive song to his late mother who meant so very much to him even though she had let him down so badly...

Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you
Julia Julia Julia
Ocean child
Calls me
So I sing a song of love
Julia Julia
Seashell eyes
Windy smile
So I sing a song of love
Julia Julia

8 comments:

  1. This film has been waiting to happen. I'm glad it's an authentic bittersweet interpretation on the formative years of such a talented and influential artist the likes of,the world will never see again.

    Look at the difference between the hype of Jacko and the death of Lennon in 1980 of an example of how the world has changed. (Although my mother couldn't cook for days in that fateful month of December 30 years ago!)

    One can't quite imagine a world when all four Beatles are dead- in some ways it will put into perspective the meaning of life, culture and society in general when that event happens.

    I always thought the story of Lennon and Julia was a really pertinent one for all children growing up outside the nuclear ideal of a family over the last 50 years. It certainly made who he was and his anger, chip on his shoulder and disappointment with the world helped shape him and provided a perfect counterbalance with the happy-go-lucky, stoic and ambitious McCartney to create the greatest songwriting partnership and cultural institution the world will ever see. Both shared the loss of a mother in their formative years of course.

    Just a note of reference- Lennon went to the Art college with the erstwhile bass player in the Quarrymen and later (Silver) Beatles, Stu Sutcliffe. Paul and George being 2 and 3 years younger repectively went to the Liverpool Institute (sponsored grammar school) next door.

    McCartney, in the 90s, bought the Institute and created his ill-fated and thought-out 'Fame' School LIPA (Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts) About the only thing he's ever done for Liverpool if you ask most Scousers...

    Most Scousers fail to realise their Scousedom only extended till about 1962 and then they became the world's...

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  2. You know I'm a huge Beatles fan, and I would like to see that movie. I just finished another book about the Beatles - actually, this one was the new Sir Paul biography - and I learned a few things about the lads that I had not known before regarding their relationships with their mothers, and their mothers' deaths.
    Glad you mentioned the Magical Mystery Tour, as that is on my bucket list! I have a picture here somewhere of me walking across the street at Abbey Lane, taken in 1977 or thereabouts, because that's what I had to do...as I recall, I had a little more hair then...

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  3. I look forward to seeing this film. I'm glad it's worthwhile. I have been working on some Beatles songs for awhile, not for public performance but for my own finger-stretching.

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  4. I wanted so badly to see the Beatles live in the 60's. I did finally get to see McCartney in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, what an absolute delight! The audience was as much fun as the show. I saw Ringo Starr a year later with his eclectic band, and it was also very enjoyable. The books about their lives, while not always flattering, have nonetheless reminded me over the years how much I owe all the Beatles for wonderful memories. I haven't heard anything about this movie here in California, hope it makes it this far.

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  5. B.BOOTHIE I never realised that you were such a Lennon fan! Thanks for the Art School advice which I have used to amend my post. At the end you said "the world's..." How should thisend?

    SAM After all these years it is easy to see that John and Paul's relationships with their mothers were absolutely key to their creative success.

    FARIDA I am not sure that this film is on genreral release but I guess that in America everything is possible - apart from hunting down Osama bin Laden!

    JAN As you are a Beatles fan, I hope you do get a chance to see this movie. However, for English people it is very easy to relate to - I am not so sure that it would be just as easy for Californians to grasp.

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  6. YP, "Blackpool" is still not available on DVD in the US, so not everything is possible for the land o' plenty.

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  7. 'At the end you said "the world's..." How should thisend?'

    As in no longer just Liverpool's possession but the world's possession.

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  8. I don't think I'll be going to see this film. I was permanently immunised against the Beatles when I did three years at Liverpool Uni in the 1980s, and was exposed to the whole Beatles legacy. Our Hall of Residence was on Penny Lane and I had my haircut at 'that' barbers shop... this was before the Beatles Industry took over, but even then there was a pilgrims' trail trodden by true believers. When are they going to make a film about the life of Ken Dodd, that's what I want to know.

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