by dubby riley

by dubby riley, a loose fitting scholar

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Nowhere Boy--My Take

After watching Nowhere Boy, the film about a teenage John Lennon, I felt the rush of two prevalent emotions. The first one is a surprising thought. "He was a good boy!"

I've STUDIED Lennon like a constellation that has never been out of my view...a science project that I ran full force into instead of away from. John Lennon's importance in modern culture has always seemed significant to me, a guiding force which McCartney can't claim "in solo" really because it was Lennon who provided the place for Paul. I have never been able to sit still without immersing myself in the psychology and sociology of our cherished rock star. I didn't expect to be surprised.

Pouring over Rolling Stone interviews, traveling to the Television and Radio Museum in New York City to spend two days watching and listening to rare TV and radio interviews, reading full biographies and devouring everything by Lennon himself including his books, his art, his cartoons, and his songs, I was crushed when I heard the news he was shot. We wouldn't get to meet after all.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought he could have been a good boy when he was 15, 16 and 17. Of course he was a troubled lad and a brute. I wasn't surprised by the portrayal of a young Lennon's anger. To see him as a gang leader, or as the roguish class clown, even as a stylish dresser in vest and tie, none of that came as a surprise. But a good boy? And I mean GOOD by the true definition of the term. A person capable of caring for other people, in spite of his outward rebelliousness. That was a surprise.

Granted, the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh was based on the memoirs of Julie Baird, John Lennon's sister, who we barely see on the fringes at his mother's flat in Liverpool. So these stories are biased and filled with a scent of sweetness which could be exagerated. The accurateness of the film is somewhat debated in fact. But as an acute observer of John's life and details, I feel confident that mostly, the story is authentic.

The other sensation I have as I walk away from the Moxie is how lucky we are in Springfield to have access to such a theater. The Moxie is the only theater in Springfield for "small," artsy, foreign or alternative films, and with all the comforts of big theaters, including comfortable padded seats and traditional theater popcorn and candy. Plus the Moxie has beer, wine, gourmet sodas and delicious baked snacks such as gewey chocolate brownies and butterscotch coconut cookies.

This isn't a blow by blow of the movie. Just a few nuggets for the reader.

As a feature film, this is the directorial debut for the (female) Sam Taylor-Wood. She has produced art with Nowhere Boy in that the film entices. It is wonderful that we are informed by the story but it is even better that the film makes us ache. No doubt, many of we Beatles lovers ventured to the theater as we would have to an historical documentary, but Taylor-Wood layered her canvas with nuance and texture.

Like anyone who has bothered to learn more about Lennon than just listening to his songs, I was already well familiar with Lennon's Aunt Mimi and how he was deprived of knowing his mother Julia before he was in his teens. But the dreamlike quality of emotion, the mystique of sensuality, these sensations could only come from personal experience, and Taylor-Wood provided that. Peaking into the reality of Lennon's boyhood, for instance how Julia pulls the "man-boy" closer to him while they're laying down listening to music and we watch him wonder where to put his hand--you almost feel as if you're intruding at an awkward moment.

Aaron Johnson plays Lennon and you ak yourself "could Lennon have been so charismatic?" Johnson is a superstar in the making. He grabs you and takes you with him. You get the feeling you'd gladly go pickyback riding with the boy, his attraction is that powerful.

Obviously, the director thought so too because at 42 years old, she left her husband and married then 19 year old Johnson, with a detour, sometime between the start of filming and when they were married, to make a child. I imagine that relationship between older woman and younger man helped design the architecture of the dramatization of Julia and John. I think it helped smudge the edges enough to provide that surreal mood. Here's actress Anne-Marie Duff, who played Julia, Lennon's care free mom who comes roaring back in to his life when he was 15. She nails the part of a wreckless female who could have just as easily been a hippie at Woodstock leaving a small child to fend for itself while she looked for the next group to party with. She talks about some of that nuance:

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Lennon's Aunt Mimi and she deserves much acclaim for the stiff, chain smoking guardian she portrays. Between Johnson's strength of tragic hero and Thomas's acting, the film stands as a tribute to actors' ability to keep an audience in the grip of the story. Here's Thomas in an interview about the film:

With Nowhere Boy you won't be served delicious Beatles music and page after page of nostalgic photography. You are there when John first meets Paul (played by Thomas Brodie Sangster, best known for his roles as a small boy in Love Actually, Nanny McPhee, and The Last Legion) and a little later when he is impressed by the guitar skills of George Harrison, and when they first play as the Quarrymen and when they get the telegram that they're off to Germany for the start of their famous careers. You delight to be involved in all of that. But you get to enjoy those moments, unlike how you've learned all the "dry" material which has informed you about a young Lennon up to now.

I enjoyed the film, as you may be able to tell. If you get a chance to see it in Springfield, it shows through December 2 at the Moxie.

The Moxie is at 
431 S. Jefferson, #108, Springfield, MO 65806  •  417.429.0800


  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Dubby. I'm hoping to catch the movie soon. You are lucky to have the Moxie Theater in Springfield!

  2. Have read quite a bit about "Nowhere Boy." Not showing @ Champaign, Illinois yet (if ever).
    Thanks for your blog.

  3. Thanks Jo and Jan! Well it will be out in video before long I'm sure, if not already. I say that if you're a Beatles fan you should see it but I think the story stands on its own based on the fact that we're talking about John Lennon. Whether you consider yourself a follower or not, we're talking about the guy who wrote IMAGINE, REVOLUTION, A DAY IN THE LIFE, LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS, not to mention the founder of the most important band of rock music. I appreciate your thoughts!