By Michael Hollett
When I interviewed Yoko Ono for the first time, in the office she once shared with John Lennon in Manhattan’s gothic Dakota, it quickly became clear to me why my favourite Beatle was fascinated by, and had fallen in love with, this controversial woman.
Figuring out the legendary and, to some, perplexing love affair between Ono and Lennon has been a mystery that has befuddled, even angered many, and the documentary, John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky, now screening on Netflix, sheds some light on the essence of their epic connection.
There’s a home movie feel to this film that’s more like a scrapbook than a traditional documentary. Lots of candid shots of Lennon and Ono with family, friends, musicians and hangers on frolicking on the sprawling Tittenhurst Park estate outside London. The couple fled there to escape the pressures of the English capital and settled in to make one of the greatest albums ever, Imagine. It’s worth watching this film just to experience Lennon recording his achingly confessional, “Jealous Guy.”
The wise woman I experienced that day in New York City is very evident in the doc as Lennon leans on her for inspiration, intelligence and a critical ear. The film makes clear that a shared commitment to political activism, especially pacifism, was at the core of their connection. Lennon and some of the pals interviewed for the film are all clear that much of the thinking behind the album and the “imagine” concept came from Ono – and I’m not surprised.
The film follows the couple to New York City where they finish the record and edit the footage that became their somewhat surreal Imagine movie that yielded much of the material used for Above Us Only Sky.
This latest look at Lennon and Ono is a good peak into a great love story. When I got up to leave that day, after what turned out to be hours but felt like minutes in Ono’s thrall, I turned and noticed a huge painting behind me that almost covered the wall and that Ono would have been looking at when she wasn’t setting her engaging and penetrating eyes on me. It was a beautiful, bright portrait of Lennon sitting cross-legged on the ground in Central Park with the couple’s young son Sean (See story page ??), a toddler at the time, in his lap, both smiling. She sent me on my way with a warm goodbye and, of course, I went up the street to the Park and Strawberry Fields to pay my respects to John.