Dir/scr: Andrew Piddington. UK. 2006. 112mins.
The very thought of a film about Mark David Chapmanis enough to provoke a knee-jerk reaction of resistance: do we really needanother portrait of a killer' The striking independent feature The Killing Of JohnLennon silences any reservations. Beautifully crafted, it studiously avoidssliding into the sensationalist mire of exploitation fare like Dahmer (2002).Instead, it offers an impressionistic journey into the mind set of John Lennon'sassassin in the months leading up to their fatal encounter at the DakotaBuilding in December 1980.
There are obvious affinitieswith Taxi Driver that the film itselfacknowledges as Chapman identifies with the alienation and confusion of theiconic Travis Bickle. Controversy surrounding thesubject and critical admiration for the artistic integrity of the projectshould combine into arthouse potential along thelines of Tarnation(2004) or The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (2004).
Filmed on many of the actuallocations central to Chapman's final months, the film also claims that all ofChapman's words are his own. This lends a documentary-like verisimilitude tothe film that is allied to a boldly cinematic approach. The widescreencompositions immediately lend the film a sense of scale and it becomes almostexperimental in the way it seeks to find visual and aural means of expressingthe torments within Chapman. When he becomes fixated with the Holden Caulfieldcharacter from Catcher InThe Rye individual words are flashed on the screen.
Split-screen images conveyan indecisive mind torn between worshipping Lennon and viewing him as ahypocrite who has advocated one thing in the lyrics of his songs whilst livinga lifestyle that is the antithesis of those sentiments. "He told us to imaginethere are no possessions," Chapman laments.
The reflective tone of thefilm finds its fullest expression in the compelling central performance fromJonas Ball. He makes Chapman a lost soul; affable, awkward and very self-aware."Normal kids don't grow up to kill ex-Beatles," he drilyremarks. Briefly touching on his childhood and the abuse at the hands of hisfather, the film's main focus is on the months between September and December1980 when Chapman moved from Honolulu in Hawaii to New York with the intentionof killing John Lennon.
He takes refuge in publicplaces, visiting cinemas to watch RagingBull and Ordinary People. He isseen as a product of his particular upbringing but also a symbol of a brokenAmerica that felt let down by its leaders. The point isn't over-emphasised butis part of a broader view of the dangers that lie in hero worship and ourobsession with celebrity.
Vintage archive footage ofThe Beatles and John Lennon shape our sense of Chapman's victim and Lennon isbriefly impersonated in a recreation of the day Chapman shot him to death. Thefilm in no way diminishes the tragedy of Lennon's loss but it also allows us abetter understanding of Chapman's unbalanced mind and the poignancy of someonewho felt betrayed by his hero.
End titles remind us thatChapman has spent the past twenty-five years in solitary confinement for hisown protection and his request for parole has been refused three times. It is asober conclusion to a sad and haunting film.
Picture Players Productions
Gail Kay Bell