Sure, you knew John Lennon was a musical genius who changed the world forever with his words and music. But did you know he also did some interesting acting along the way, too?
To be sure, John Lennon’s first love (and main talent) was music, and the world’s still reeling from how The Beatles changed music. But that didn’t prevent him from making some indelible impressions on the big screen and on television.
Here, then, are some of John’s peak movie and TV moments:
JOHN GOES DOWN THE DRAIN
The Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, is one of the cinema’s great comedies. (See it now!) It has only a very minor plot (i.e., Can The Beatles get to the big show on time?) but that doesn’t matter. The film is really an excuse to let us hang out with the Fab Four and absorb their funny and quirky personalities.
One great scene simply observes John as he enjoys a bubble bath, playing with toy boats, pretending to be a WWII U-boat commander and wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap as he bathes. “Rule Britannia! ” he sings in a comical voice, “Britannia rule the waves!”…before submerging his head beneath the bubbles. It’s really just John Lennon playing in the tub and acting goofy, and it’s great.
John makes bath time a fun time (in A Hard Day’s Night). Meanwhile, George has a close shave.
Then a Beatle manager enters to see that Lennon has seemingly disappeared down the drain with the sudsy bathwater. John then somehow cooly appears behind him, completely dried from his bath and asking the manager what’s taking him so long. Classic John moment.
BEATLES INVADE BIG APPLE
A Hard Day’s Night is a funny, tongue-in-cheek look at Beatlemania. For a backstage view of the real phenomenon, check out The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, a 1991 documentary originally filmed in 1964 with the group’s cooperation.
It was made by David and Albert Maysles, two filmmaking brothers who really knew how to make documentaries that were fascinating and revealed core truths about their subjects. And with this assignment, the pair really hit the jackpot.
NYC erupted in February 1964 when The Beatles landed at JFK Airport. This movie captures that time in fascinating detail. The filmmakers had unprecedented access to the band members, following them around as they remained shut-ins at their NYC hotel, which was then under siege by thousands of crazed teenagers – all of them screaming as if they were being boiled alive.
The Beatles’ 1964 arrival in NYC shook up the entire world, and created pandemonium in New York.
Best moments: The boys break free and head to a dance club where they shake and shimmy with the rest of the New York crowd. Writer Ronn Spencer described it like this: “There’s the Peppermint Lounge crammed to the limit with continental hipsters and transistor sisters, all razor-cut and Fabu-lashed, moving and grooving to the Push and Shake.” (Footage from this classic scene also appears in A Hard Day’s Night.)
JOHN SERVES DINNER…LOTS OF IT
Immediately following 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles were full-on psychedelic, as the group’s next film showed in Technicolor. Magical Mystery Tour takes the band’s trippiest music down even more strange avenues. The title tour is a chartered bus trip filled with odd characters and, oh yeah, The Beatles. Great songs (“I Am the Walrus,” “The Fool on the Hill”), lots of strange moments:
Magical Mystery Tour tried to bring the Pepper magic to filmmaking, with mixed results.
Our favorite John scene: Appearing as a waiter with cheesy mustache and slicked-back hair, Lennon serves a diner a heaping plate of spaghetti – literally piling on the pasta with a shovel.
Great absurdist humor from the wacky John, whose own tastes in comedy included the brilliant British actor Peter Sellers. Lennon would tap into this same humor when he starred in 1967’s How I Won the War. Ironically, peace emissary John portrayed a British infantry soldier during WWII.
ROCKING ON THE ROOF
The documentary Let It Be is often so distressing for Beatles fans to watch that it’s been one of the rarer films available. This film captures the group near the end of its ride as it makes the album Let It Be. The exhausting strain of the group’s mega-stardom is clearly taking a toll. Nonetheless, there are some great musical moments.
Like the blow-out jam on the roof. On Jan. 30, 1969, the Fab Four ascended to the top of the Apple Music building in London for a final goodbye set. Lennon’s a revelation, wearing a fur coat and beat-up sneakers and playing tasty lead licks on his Epiphone Casino.
The Beatles rock out live one last time, while local constables and spectators look on (and upward).
Joined by keyboard collaborator Billy Preston, the band whips through a tight batch of tunes (“Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down”) until they hit their last public notes as a band. Then John, always the dry wit, takes the mic to deliver his final statement on the group he had originally started: “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves…and I hope we passed the audition!” Did they ever.
JOHN AND YOKO…AS TALK SHOW HOSTS?
It started when he and Yoko appeared on The Dick Cavett Show back in September 1971. Originally a tight-lipped interview subject, John discovered Cavett’s questions were intelligent and then the ex-Beatle really started opening up. Long story short: John and Yoko liked Cavett’s show so much that they kept talking long after the taping concluded, and enough material was captured for a second program.
John and Yoko would return to Cavett’s show in 1972, the same year their most amazing TV moment occurred: The pair was tapped to co-host The Mike Douglas Show for a full week.
This became one of the oddest events to ever hit American television. John was a leading counterculture figure at the time while The Mike Douglas Show was one of the most mainstream talk shows on the air. It made for a strange mix.
Many viewers were shocked to meet a Lennon who was warm, chatty and funny – and surprisingly down to earth and normal. (He even eagerly participated in cooking demonstrations!)
Wacky 70s Pop culture event: John and Yoko co-host The Mike Douglas Show in February 1972. Mike opens the first show by crooning a Lounge-style cover of The Beatles’ “Michelle.”
In addition to showcasing Lennon musical guests like classic early Rocker Chuck Berry, there were astounding hippie moments.
None more so than when John and Yoko led their show guests in picking out numbers at random from a phone book and calling them, then introducing themselves and telling the mystified person answering the phone that they “really loved them” and asking them to call another stranger with a similar message of goodwill. (Hey, it was the groovy 70s, okay?)
FIND YOUR VOICE!
Right now, Cinequest 2016 is taking place in San Jose, Calif. It’s the kind of freewheeling art festival John Lennon might have really enjoyed, given his wide-ranging interests, which definitely included film. (Not only did he make movies with The Beatles, but John and Yoko created an interesting body of experimental films together.)
In fact, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus (JLETB) is appearing at Cinequest to reach out to young people who want to positively change and challenge the world with their creative vision. The Lennon Bus carries on the proud tradition of artistic invention forged by John and Yoko.
We’ll be there, too, happy to be supporting The Lennon Bus. At Digital Media Academy, we share the same mission as the JLETB, striving to empower the world creatively by teaching people about today’s powerful artistic technology.
Check out Cinequest, and find out online where the Lennon Bus will be rolling next. And for the tech learning experience of a lifetime, consider joining us this summer at DMA tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Find your voice in film or music production or plenty of other great tech subjects.
Like John sang (in “All You Need is Love”), “It’s easy!” And DMA can show you how easy.