Lennon’s Last Interview
(UK, 65 min.)
Dir. Brian Grant
December 8, 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. His murder, a first among rock icons, devastated a generation of fans who saw Lennon and the Beatles change the way that people made and imagined music. The sudden and senseless act meant an ironically violent end for a man who used his platform as an advocate for peace.
Before the tragic ending to Lennon’s story, however, he synthesized many of his highs, lows, viewpoints, and contradictions in an expansive interview with Andy Peebles, a radio DJ with the BBC. The interview, conducted December 6, 1980, is explored anew in Brian Grant’s documentary Lennon’s Last Weekend. The excerpts from this two-hour conversation between Peebles, Lennon, and Lennon’s wife and creative partner, Yoko Ono, provide the highlights in Lennon’s Last Weekend. However, fans might get more from the interview itself, which is double the length with twice the flavour. These side effects are perhaps inevitable when condensing so much material, talking heads interviews, and BBC-style narration atop Ken Burns-style pans of archival images into a one-hour special.
Peebles’ major interview provides insights into the former Beatle, who took a five-year hiatus from recording until he and Ono returned to the spotlight with their album Double Fantasy, released just weeks before his death. The talking heads within Lennon’s Last Weekend refer to Peebles’ interview as the greatest living obituary of rock ‘n’ roll, and they might be right. It’s one of those conversations of which journalists dream and is doubly novel since Lennon died when Peebles was on his flight back to London.
Grant provides brief excerpts from the interview within the documentary. Lennon offers candid perspectives on the Beatles’ break-up, his “bigger than Jesus” kerfuffle, relationship with Paul McCartney, and anti-war views. The latter point fuels much of the doc as Grant explores the ways in which Lennon was put under surveillance by the Nixon administration, an eerie precursor to the Watergate tactics that would be the President’s downfall, and made an example of due to his political beliefs. More invigorating are the insights into Lennon’s new phase as an artist and family man—although Beatle fans with a grudge against Yoko Ono might disagree.
The doc moves through the different themes of the interview rather swiftly. Title cards separate the talking points and organise the commentary from the key documentary interviewees—BBC personality and “professor of pop” Paul Bamaccini, Double Fantasy guitarist Earl Slick, Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, and TV producer Malcolm Gerrie. The speakers all provide insights gleaned from working with or studying Lennon. Notably absent among the talking heads, however, are Peebles and Ono, as well as surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Any discussion of this legendary interview is admittedly lacking without the parties who were either involved or implicated. Their absence suggests that Peebles’ interview isn’t necessarily a defining slice of Lennon lore, but rather a convenient vehicle with which to inspect the musician’s career in 60 minutes.
Peebles’ conversation, moreover, also wasn’t the last interview that Lennon gave. Mere hours before his death, Lennon and Ono spoke at length with Dave Sholin, Laurie Kaye, and Ron Hummel for RKO. Peebles’ interview is arguably a much stronger piece of journalism, but Lennon’s Last Weekend has a false premise by omitting the fact that the interview wasn’t Lennon’s last. It’s a bit odd that a film called Lennon’s Last Weekend virtually excises the final two days from the singer’s life.
Lennon’s Last Weekend debuts on BritBox on December 8.