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The Killing of John Lennon - Allan Hunter in Edinburgh - Screen International

16th Aug. 2006, Allan Hunter in Edinburgh - Screen International

The Killing Of John Lennon

Allan Hunter in Edinburgh

16 August 2006

Dir/scr: Andrew Piddington. UK. 2006. 112mins.

The very thought of a film about Mark David Chapman is enough to provoke a knee-jerk reaction of resistance: do we really need another portrait of a killer? The striking independent feature The Killing Of John Lennon silences any reservations. Beautifully crafted, it studiously avoids sliding into the sensationalist mire of exploitation fare like Dahmer (2002). Instead, it offers an impressionistic journey into the mind set of John Lennon’s assassin in the months leading up to their fatal encounter at the Dakota Building in December 1980.

There are obvious affinities with Taxi Driver that the film itself acknowledges as Chapman identifies with the alienation and confusion of the iconic Travis Bickle. Controversy surrounding the subject and critical admiration for the artistic integrity of the project should combine into arthouse potential along the lines of Tarnation (2004) or The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (2004).

Filmed on many of the actual locations central to Chapman’s final months, the film also claims that all of Chapman’s words are his own. This lends a documentary-like verisimilitude to the film that is allied to a boldly cinematic approach. The widescreen compositions immediately lend the film a sense of scale and it becomes almost experimental in the way it seeks to find visual and aural means of expressing the torments within Chapman. When he becomes fixated with the Holden Caulfield character from Catcher In The Rye individual words are flashed on the screen.

Split-screen images convey an indecisive mind torn between worshipping Lennon and viewing him as a hypocrite who has advocated one thing in the lyrics of his songs whilst living a lifestyle that is the antithesis of those sentiments. “He told us to imagine there are no possessions,” Chapman laments.

The reflective tone of the film finds its fullest expression in the compelling central performance from Jonas Ball. He makes Chapman a lost soul; affable, awkward and very self-aware. “Normal kids don’t grow up to kill ex-Beatles,” he drily remarks. Briefly touching on his childhood and the abuse at the hands of his father, the film’s main focus is on the months between September and December 1980 when Chapman moved from Honolulu in Hawaii to New York with the intention of killing John Lennon.

He takes refuge in public places, visiting cinemas to watch Raging Bull and Ordinary People. He is seen as a product of his particular upbringing but also a symbol of a broken America that felt let down by its leaders. The point isn’t over-emphasised but is part of a broader view of the dangers that lie in hero worship and our obsession with celebrity.

Vintage archive footage of The Beatles and John Lennon shape our sense of Chapman’s victim and Lennon is briefly impersonated in a recreation of the day Chapman shot him to death. The film in no way diminishes the tragedy of Lennon’s loss but it also allows us a better understanding of Chapman’s unbalanced mind and the poignancy of someone who felt betrayed by his hero.

End titles remind us that Chapman has spent the past twenty-five years in solitary confinement for his own protection and his request for parole has been refused three times. It is a sober conclusion to a sad and haunting film.

Production company Picture Players Productions

International sales Cinetic Media

Executive producer Rod Pearson

Producer Rakha Singh

Cinematography Roger Eaton

Production design Tora Peterson

Editor Tony Palmer

Music Makana

Main cast Jonas Ball

Krisha Fairchild

Gunter Stern

Gail Kay Bell

Mie Omori

Robert Kirk

Richard Sherman


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