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With one big John Lennon anniversary behind us and another approaching, PBS marks the occasions with a pair of programs a harsh, unflinching drama and a rather adoring documentary.
"Lennon Naked" dramatizes his life from 1964-71;"LennoNYC" recounts his life in America from 1971-80.
Though markedly different, both attest to Lennon's continuing legacy, three decades after his death. On Oct. 9, Lennon would have been 70; Dec. 8 marks the 30th anniversary of his murder.
"I'm trying my best to make sure that John's voice is still heard, but in the way that John would have liked," his widow, Yoko Ono, told TV critics.
Not surprisingly, she participated in the adoring documentary, not the harsh drama.
"Masterpiece Contemporary" presents "Lennon Naked," an episodic 82-minute TV movie that portrays Lennon (Christopher Eccleston of "Doctor Who") as a tortured soul who tortures others. He's haunted by the childhood trauma of his parents' breakup and his estrangement from them.
The British TV movie shows Lennon as a complicated man who's both compelling and repellent. He's obsessed with his father abandoning him, yet he abandons his own son, Julian. He treats his first wife, Cynthia, abominably and mistreats his friends including his fellow Beatles.
"Lennon Naked" ends with John and Yoko leaving London in 1971 for the paradise of the Big Apple. "It's like heaven there," John says. "And people are nice to Yoko."
So is the "American Masters" production "LennoNYC."
Lennon was not American, of course, but "American Masters" producer Susan Lacy is quick to claim him. "With in-studio recordings that even the most avid Lennon fans have never heard and unprecedented exclusive cooperation from Yoko, this two-hour film establishes John as an American artist," she said.
It also establishes Ono as the heroine of the documentary. Lennon is difficult; Ono is caring and understanding.
"LennoNYC" is not two hours of pure joy, of course. There are the battles against deportation, and Lennon's separation from Ono, when he went to Los Angeles with May Pang. But Ono is portrayed as the woman who saved Lennon.
"There are many gritty moments in this film," Ono said. "And I'm thinking, 'Well, it's OK,' because you should know him as a three-dimensional person or four-dimensional or six-dimensional, not just a flat thing. There's some part of it that's kind of painful for me, and it might be painful for John too. But I think John wants that to be shown."
Ever a contradiction, Ono pays tribute to and blames New York City.
"Even after John's passing, even when I'm in Europe or something like that, I think of John in New York because he loved New York," she said. "He said, 'Well, I wish I was born here.' "
Ono termed the documentary as important to her, because it's about New York City. "It was his love, and it was his death."
Yes, Lennon was murdered in New York by a mentally unstable man, but to blame that on New York City is a stretch. Not surprisingly, Ono's assertion is not part of "LennoNYC," which goes out of its way to portray her in a positive light.
That, it would seem, was the price of her cooperation.
Focus on John Lennon, times two
The dramatization "Lennon Naked" airs Sunday, Nov. 21, at 10 p.m. on "Masterpiece Contemporary"; the documentary "LennoNYC" airs Monday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. on "American Masters"; both on KUED-Channel 7.