Sunday, 8 November 2009


Shot on 16mm, Happy Birthday To John documents the events of October 9th, 1972 – John Lennon’s 32nd birthday, and also the opening of an exhibition displaying the works of Lennon and wife Yoko Ono. The occasion brings together many of the colourful characters that made up their social circle at the time: Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, George Maciunas. The film opens with a speedy montage supposedly summarising the experience of the exhibition, as Lennon describes his experiences with underground filmmaking. Title cards connote the group’s cultural regality: “The kings gather... Syracuse Oct.9, 1972”, “Poets & knights pay honors as plebeians watch”. Suddenly, the affectations of the gallery are dropped, and we are in someone’s living room. A cake topped with an edible acoustic guitar wishes John a happy birthday from “Yoko and the rest of the world”, and the group begins improvising songs. The soundtrack unchanging, we are then treated to a brief history of John and Yoko’s performance work, followed by concert footage of Lennon and Stevie Wonder, amongst others. The film ends ominously as we are transported forwards to December 8th, 1980, the day of Lennon’s death, as adoring fans pay their respects in Central Park.

With this seemingly ad hoc documentary, director Jonas Mekas, known for his diaristic filming style, creates a fitting commemoration to the man in question without sensationalising the events. Mekas allows the images to speak independently of the soundtrack, which serves merely to underline the sentiment of the event. A poignant, valuable artefact.

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