J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Lennon Report: The Death of a Beatle

WABC’s Eyewitness News pioneered the use of so-called “Happy Talk” banter, but the legendary Roger Grimsby gave it an acerbic edge suitable for gritty 1970s New York. It was indeed number one in the largest local market, but WABC producer Alan Weiss had even higher ambitions. Tragedy becomes scoopable opportunity when Weiss is admitted to the same emergency room that labored to save John Lennon’s life. The long dark night of December 8, 1980 is dramatized in Jeremy Profe’s The Lennon Report (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

As several of the real life medical staffers note in the film’s epilogue, this was very definitely pre-Giuliani New York. Roosevelt Hospital (now Mount Sinai West) was located in Midtown West, but at the time it regularly admitted numerous gunshot and stabbing victims each night. It was a relatively prosaic motorcycle accident that landed Weiss in the ER. Despite the pain in his hip, Weiss could not miss the whirlwind of activity surrounding a VIP gunshot victim and he is pretty sure he heard the name John Lennon. However, the doctors and nurses will not confirm anything and they certainly are not about to help him communicate with his newsroom. Yes, it was so much easier keeping things under wraps before the era of smart phones.

Dark and moody, Report is sort of a throwback to the sort of contemporary urban chamber dramas that used to be staples of Golden Age anthology shows like Playhouse 90. Ironically, a story like this is probably too small for television now, so it must be produced as a feature. To his credit, Profe is quite sensitive in his depiction of the real life characters. John Lennon’s features are never shown, nor do we ever really see much of his murderer, besides a few glimpses of his fat ass in passing. Perhaps most significantly, Karen Tsen Lee portrays Yoko Ono with such dignity and vulnerability, she might finally convince Beatles fans to lighten up on her.

Most of the drama centers on Dr. David Halleran, the young doctor on call charged with resuscitating his idol, the nursing staff, and the pesky Weiss. Stef Dawson and Stephen Spinella have some particularly effective and humane moments as Barbara Kammerer RN and pulmonary specialist Dr. Richards Marks, respectively. Walter Vincent and Devin Ratray also supply some welcome bantering rapport as Weiss and his newsroom manager Phil Bernstein, which periodically airs out the film a little, without dispelling the somber mood.

Report is well executed, but it is undeniably small in scope. Frankly, people of good conscience can debate whether Lennon merits such passion play treatment. Yes, he was a Beatle, but he wasn’t Lincoln or Kennedy. Still, Profe and production designer have crafted an evocative time-capsule period piece that will remind those who lived through the era of the time when New York City was facing financial default and just about every man in America planned his week around Monday Night Football. Recommended for old school New Yorkers as a VOD option, The Lennon Report opens this Friday (10/7) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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