Nowhere Boy

It was thirty years ago today that John Lennon was murdered at the entrance to his residence at the Dakota building in New York City. The three decades since his death have seen the release of a number of documentaries and feature films that focus on certain aspects of Lennon’s life. The post-Beatles period and Lennon’s political activism throughout the early seventies is nicely covered in a documentary by Leaf and Scheinfeld called The U.S. vs John Lennon (2006). From 1988, Andrew Solt’s Imagine: John Lennon chronicles his life as a member of The Beatles and then focuses on his solo career. It features edited performances of his songs and uses interviews and archival footage to tell his story. The actor Ian Hart made his first two film appearances playing his fellow Liverpudlian in Backbeat (1991) and The Hours & the Times (1994). The former focuses on the relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe and Lennon as The Beatles honed their craft in Hamburg in the early sixties, while the latter re-imagines an actual holiday spent by Lennon and manager Brian Epstein in Barcelona in 1963. This year, Christopher Eccleston portrayed the singer’s relationship with Yoko Ono and the eventual demise of The Beatles in the BBC film, Lennon Naked. A year earlier, Aaron Johnson (pictured above) played the pre-Beatle Lennon in artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy is set in post-war Liverpool and spans the period between the deaths of John’s uncle George Smith in 1955 and his mother Julia in 1958. It explores the formative influence that Mimi Smith (above right) and Julia Lennon (above left) had on his life. It is based on a memoir by Lennon’s younger half-sister, Julia Baird, who was named after their mother. John’s father Alfred had left his wife while John was a young boy, so he was brought up by his aunt Mimi and her husband. The film gets going when he discovers that Julia is living near him, allowing him to develop a relationship with her for the first time. Julia is portrayed as a happy-go-lucky, optimistic woman with a love of rock and roll and seems to be more like an older sister to Lennon than the mother she is supposed to be. In contrast, Mimi is presented as a dour, authoritarian figure who prefers classical music and constantly drums home the importance of education and culture over music and play. Kristin Scott-Thomas as Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia are well cast in these roles and, in my view, they steal the film from Aaron Johnson’s more subdued Lennon. Ultimately, Nowhere Boy is a film that is more about the influence of these two strong women than it is about his own character development

Nowhere Boy is Taylor-Wood’s debut feature and she follows the path taken by two fellow artists who have released their first films in recent years. Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008) and Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007) were both critical successes and were notable for their visual style as much as for their challenging subject matter. The film’s screenplay was written by Matt Greenhalgh, who also wrote the script for Control. However, it is not as compelling or as well-written as his adaptation of the life of Ian Curtis. Additionally, Taylor-Wood’s directorial skills do not match the power and visual style that Corbijn brought from his work as a photographer into his debut film. Nevertheless, Nowhere Boy is still worth checking out for the performances of the two female leads and for dramatising a part of the singer’s life that is often neglected

The three songs I’ve chosen today tie in with the themes of the film. Mother is the opening track on his debut album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970). The song is directed to both Julia and Alfred and was inspired by Lennon’s experiments with Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy. I picked up Julian Shah-Tayler’s version from a recent post over at Cover Me and his take on the song exorcises as many ghosts as Lennon did on his original. The song Julia originally appeared on The White Album (1968) by The Beatles, but it is effectively a solo number as Lennon’s voice and guitar are the only instruments used. Erin Moran goes by the name of A Girl called Eddy and her interpretation of the song is taken from Mojo Magazine’s tribute to The White Album from a couple of years back. Nowhere Man is the song that (nearly) gives the film its title. It is actually directed at himself. Paul Westerberg recorded the song for the soundtrack of I Am Sam (2001) and it is a fine replacement for the original. That’s all from me, so I’ll just say goodbye. You can say hello in the comments section if you wish

Mother (John Lennon cover) – Julian Shah-Taylor

Julia (Beatles cover) – A Girl Called Eddy

Nowhere Man (Beatles cover) – Paul Westerberg

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2 thoughts on “Nowhere Boy

    • You’re welcome, Julian. It’s not an easy song to do. I notice that you share the same first name as John’s eldest son ;-)

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