Yesterday, Inside Thirteen had the opportunity to sit down with Susan Lacy, Series Creator and Executive Producer of American Masters, to discuss the making of LENNONYC.
LENNONYC explores John Lennon’s life in New York City during the 1970s, including his relationship with Yoko Ono, immigration troubles, and the unique freedom the city granted him. The film coincides with the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death, and what would have been his 70th birthday.
LENNONYC premieres Monday, November 22 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.
Watch a preview here:
Inside Thirteen: What inspired you to produce this film for American Masters?
Susan Lacy: I wanted to do the film because I knew John Lennon’s 70th birthday was coming up, and the 30th anniversary of his death, and I try to be timely, because I knew that there would be a lot of attention on his 70th birthday – that was the time to do the film. Not a year later; not two years earlier. I knew that that would probably be of interest to Yoko, so when I approached her, I approached her with that in mind. She knew there would be a lot of other activities, and said “let’s make this film the centerpiece of all the attention on his birthday,” with the reissuing of the catalog, “Nowhere Boy” coming out, all that. There was a campaign around his 70th birthday and I wanted us to be part of it. Also, I didn’t have to deal with any Beatles publishing, it was all about his solo career, and the publishing is controlled by one source, Yoko.
The personal answer is that I love John Lennon. I was there the night he died. I was one of the people who gravitated there and stood there all night. I left my little baby at home; I just had to go. I stood there with thousands of others and my candle and wept. For years, I could not think about John Lennon without weeping. It’s a very personal interest of mine and a love of mine, that’s why the timing of it is why it happened now.
IT: What impact did John Lennon and Yoko Ono have on New York City?
SL: I think they fit into New York…New York was a pretty blasé place and he talked about that – New Yorkers are so much more relaxed and he could actually go out on the street. Somebody wrote an article the other day and said “can you imagine John Lennon living in New York City today?” He wouldn’t have been able to walk around with the paparazzi and the celebrity-crazy. These poor people can’t walk outside of their hotels anymore. That he could walk so freely through Central Park and not be bothered and go to the dry cleaner and drop his stuff off by himself and go every morning to the same place for breakfast – that was a different world. So, I don’t know if he had an impact, I think he just fit in with New York and the spirit of New York. He was loved and embraced, but allowed to have a life.
IT: Was there anything you were surprised to learn about John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the making of the film?
SL: Very much so. I certainly didn’t know before we made this film, and I think most people didn’t know, what a love story it is. What a genuine, genuine love story. Everybody knew about the lost weekend, but I don’t think anybody knew it was 18 months long. More importantly, everyone probably thought he left her, went off and had a wild time, and came home. That isn’t what happened. She tells the story about why she finally kicked him out – the first time she’s ever told that story – so that was a huge piece of information that had never been out there before. But also, that he adored her, needed her, and depended on her, and she on him. It was a creative partnership, and it’s a real love story. That, I’m not sure any of us going into it knew we were going to find out because we hadn’t seen all that material before. All the people who worked with him talked about when he was in L.A. and every night he would just scream Yoko’s name. The extent of that love story was a real surprise to me.
IT: What was working with Yoko Ono like?
SL: Working with her was great because she owned a lot of the material and made it available to us, which was wonderful. We couldn’t have made this film without her cooperation. I found her and her team incredibly intelligent. She did not control the film in any way, but she provided us with enormous amounts of unseen and unheard material.
IT: What was the hardest part of making this film?
SL: Raising the money was the hardest part. I actually thought getting Yoko to say yes would be hard but it wasn’t hard, she said yes pretty much right away. It took so long to raise the money that we finally had to make the film in six months in order to make the birthday. That was tough. I don’t know too many other people who could pull that off. We finished the film on September 21st, the first press screening for the New York Film Festival was September 22nd, and it premiered September 25! We weren’t able to start the film until the beginning of April.
IT: What is your favorite John Lennon song?
SL: I have so many! I love “Stepping Out,” “Woman,” and “I’m Losing You.”
IT: What do you hope viewers will take away from LENNONYC?
SL: I think all of our films are about shedding light on the inner life and the societal context in which the artist was living, so that their work is more deeply understood and appreciated. I think we did that with this movie. I think some people have forgotten what a great solo artist he was. If you didn’t know, you’d want to run out and buy those records!