Review: We Knew Lennon, She Knew John

In 1973, during a rough patch with Yoko Ono, John Lennon moved to Los Angeles, immersing himself in an 18-month period of extravagance and indulgence that would later become known as the long fabled “Lost Weekend”. May Pang, Yoko Ono’s personal assistant at the time, shortly thereafter became Lennon’s girlfriend and witnessed this period of chaos first hand.

John and May; by May Pang Archives/Iconic Events Releasing.

During this time, John Lennon had notable encounters with a new era of musicians, including David Bowie and Elton John. He jammed with Bowie, and the two even recorded a track together, Fame, which became a worldwide hit. Lennon also had a memorable jam session with Elton John at Madison Square Garden in 1974, where they performed Whatever Gets You Thru the Night, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and I Saw Her Standing There (which was dedicated to “an old estranged fiance […], Paul!“).

However, as the Lost Weekend continued, Lennon’s erratic behavior and substance abuse took a toll on his health and relationships. Eventually, he reconciled with Yoko Ono, and Pang and Lennon’s relationship came to an end. In the new documentary, “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story“, May Pang separates her facts from decades of fiction once and for all.

© Iconic Events Releasing

The film is directed by Stuart Samuels, Richard Kaufman, and Eve Brandstein.  Samuels and Kaufman previously worked together on Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary, “Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years”, and Brandstein was casting director on “This Is Spinal Tap”.

I recall hearing murmurs of this film being in production before Covid, and when it came to mind earlier last year, I was saddened to find no news about it. I truly thought it might have been lost in the shuffle. However, to my delight, it wasn’t, and eventually, it received a one-day-only wide theater release I was able to attend. It’s always a pleasure to see a Beatle on the big screen.

The biggest shock to me was how well the film was edited. It is filled with its own flavor and personality, seperating it from the various Beatle documentaries that have come before. Dream-like transitions, textures, images, and drawings make the entire thing feel like some sort of joyride. It’s captivating, spellbinding, and simply unique.

However, since the film is mostly composed of archival footage, there are obvious manipulations made to the footage in order to colorize it and present the film at a higher quality. Some pieces look washed and unnatural. What’s not tampered with, though, such as various personal pictures and footage of John Lennon presenting on local news and radio stations, are beautiful shots that I had never seen.

John and May; by May Pang Archives/Iconic Events Releasing.

There were a lot more mentions of Paul McCartney than I expected, and one in particular left my jaw on the floor. The iconic bootleg record, A Toot and a Snore in ’74, which features the last “jam session” of Lennon and McCartney, is not only referenced, but is played, remastered, and even animated! However, what truly amazed me was Pang’s account of Paul pulling John aside and delivering a message from Yoko. Keep an eye out for that scene.

The film does end up dragging in the middle, however. My biggest pet peeve with documentaries about Beatle-esque topics is the tendency to lean into that “Beatlemania” hysteria, losing their personality and repeating a story that we all already know if we’re watching their film. “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” does this, but not nearly as embarrassingly as Disney’s “If These Walls Could Sing” earlier this year.

This might be a spoiler, but in the last quarter of the film, we meet present-day May Pang. Her interview is entirely shot in black and white, against a muted background, and is very well done. We linger on her face as she recounts John leaving her to reunite with Yoko, the end of our story. This personal touch adds much more than any archival pictures or footage could have done.

Pang, John, and Yoko; by May Pang Archives/Iconic Events Releasing.

We also encounter some outright cringeworthy moments, like the film’s opening line being a question Pang answered on a talk show about ‘making money off of John’. It feels forced and comes across as inappropriate; as these ticket prices were much more than I paid for “Super Mario”.

Another wonderful addition to the film is its soundtrack. Apart from the aforementioned tracks from Bowie and Elton, I was pleasantly surprised to hear solo Lennon music, despite knowing that Yoko Ono owns most of John’s publishing. Ono isn’t portrayed very well here, so I’m left wondering if she gave her blessing for songs such as Imagine, Happy X-Mas, and Surprise, Surprise to appear in the film.

In conclusion, “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” is a unique and captivating documentary that offers a fresh perspective on John Lennon’s life through the lens of May Pang’s own eyes. The film stands out with its unique editing, dream-like transitions, and captivating visuals. It’s a welcomed change to the music documentary.

I won’t go too in-depth, as I recommend that you all see it for yourselves, but the hug shared, along with the walk off into the sunset at the end, left my heart feeling warm.

Final Review: ★★★★.5/5

Writer’s Highlights: I Saw Her Standing There (Live from MSG 1974), Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox), John Lennon DJ’s at KHJ-AM