The Killing of John Lennon Press
A Redstone Pictures presentation of a Picture Players production. Produced by Rakha Singh. Executive producer, Rod Pearson. Directed, written by Andrew Piddington.
With: Jonas Ball, Mie Omori, Krisha Fairchild, Robert Kirk, Anthony Solis, Vera Felice.
Jonas Ball stars as the deeply troubled assassin of a rock legend in ‘The Killing of John Lennon,’ written and directed by Andrew Piddington.
Anchored by a fearless, commanding lead perf by newcomer Jonas Ball as deranged assassin Mark David Chapman, “The Killing of John Lennon” is a harrowing, impressionistic, widescreen tour-de-force that unfolds with the propulsive urgency of a scrapbook thrown into a howling wind. Aiming to accurately chart the agitated gunman’s days and hours prior to emptying a .38 into the Beatle, and the short-term aftermath of the December 1980 tragedy, helmer Andrew Piddington’s relentlessly non-judgmental character study will set tongues wagging far beyond Lennon’s huge fan base and stands to do muscular niche business ahead of even stronger ancillary.
With a near-constant voiceover culled from Chapman’s detailed diary entries and comments, the pic, shot almost entirely on actual locations, immediately sets a jittery pace of information overload that rarely flags for nearly two hours. Cursed with a father who didn’t care and “a mother (Krisha Fairchild) out of ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ ” the isolated Chapman, already seething with resentment and in search of a focus for his anger, drifts from Decatur, Ga., to Honolulu. His Japanese-American wife, Gloria (Mie Omori), can’t calm him.
At his local library, Chapman becomes enthralled by J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and a photography book dedicated to Lennon, then enjoying a creative resurgence following the mid-November 1980 release of “Double Fantasy.” Tragically intertwining an attraction to the loathing of “phoneys” espoused by Salinger’s protag, Holden Caulfield, and a perceived clash between Lennon‘s idealism and his wealth, Chapman concludes that Lennon is the biggest phoney of all and makes a fateful decision to go to New York and park himself in front of Lennon‘s apartment building, the Dakota, with a copy of the record. “I was nobody,” he said later, “until I killed the biggest somebody on Earth.”
Helmer Piddington finds a visual rhythm for Chapman’s growing delusions that is, at once, frighteningly intense in its emotions and kaleidoscopically broad in its period feel. In Ball, he’s found a young actor courageous enough to court the enmity of fans but with the chops to sell Chapman as a seething bundle of narcissistic contradictions: It’s difficult to look away from him.
Late in the film, employing a close-up angle on Ball’s face that recalls both Vincent D’Onofrio’s insane Pvt. Pyle in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” and the iconic poster image of “The Blair Witch Project,” Piddington succeeds in creating a hair-raising visual approximation of pure, unexplainable evil. Supporting players are fine in service to the Chapman-centric script, while the hallucinatory nature of the killer’s break from reality is underscored by having both Lennon and Yoko Ono played, largely in shadow, by two sets of thesps.
Tech credits are pro down the line, with Roger Eaton’s nervous widescreen images strongly emulating the nocturnal chill of “Collateral” to smashing effect. Makana’s diverse score, spanning plaintive folk and throbbing electronica, never draws overt attention to itself, while Dane Thomsen’s densely layered sound mix approximates the agitated demons that surely scream in Chapman’s head. Per the creatives, the only non-authentic set used was a location in London that subbed for the vestibule of the Dakota where Lennon collapsed. World preem of the pic at the Edinburgh fest was projected in vid, with a 35mm transfer in the works.
Camera (color, widescreen), Roger Eaton; editor, Tony Palmer; music, Makana; production designer, Tora Peterson; art directors, Anu Schwartz, Skeeter Stanback; costume designer, Michael Bevins; sound, Dane Thomsen. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (British Gala), Aug. 15, 2006. Running time: 114 MIN.
By EDDIE COCKRELL
Allan Hunter in Edinburgh
The very thought of a film about Mark David Chapman is enough to provoke a knee-jerk reaction of resistance: do we really need another portrait of a killer? The striking independent feature The Killing Of John Lennon silences any reservations. Beautifully crafted, it studiously avoids sliding into the sensationalist mire of exploitation fare like Dahmer (2002). Instead, it offers an impressionistic journey into the mind set of John Lennon’s assassin in the months leading up to their fatal encounter at the Dakota Building in December 1980.
There are obvious affinities with Taxi Driver that the film itself acknowledges as Chapman identifies with the alienation and confusion of the iconic Travis Bickle. Controversy surrounding the subject and critical admiration for the artistic integrity of the project should combine into arthouse potential along the lines of Tarnation (2004) or The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (2004).
Filmed on many of the actual locations central to Chapman’s final months, the film also claims that all of Chapman’s words are his own. This lends a documentary-like verisimilitude to the film that is allied to a boldly cinematic approach. The widescreen compositions immediately lend the film a sense of scale and it becomes almost experimental in the way it seeks to find visual and aural means of expressing the torments within Chapman. When he becomes fixated with the Holden Caulfield character from Catcher In The Rye individual words are flashed on the screen.
Split-screen images convey an indecisive mind torn between worshiping Lennon and viewing him as a hypocrite who has advocated one thing in the lyrics of his songs whilst living a lifestyle that is the antithesis of those sentiments. “He told us to imagine there are no possessions,” Chapman laments.
The reflective tone of the film finds its fullest expression in the compelling central performance from Jonas Ball. He makes Chapman a lost soul; affable, awkward and very self-aware. “Normal kids don’t grow up to kill ex-Beatles,” he drily remarks. Briefly touching on his childhood and the abuse at the hands of his father, the film’s main focus is on the months between September and December 1980 when Chapman moved from Honolulu in Hawaii to New York with the intention of killing John Lennon.
He takes refuge in public places, visiting cinemas to watch Raging Bull and Ordinary People. He is seen as a product of his particular upbringing but also a symbol of a broken America that felt let down by its leaders. The point isn’t over-emphasised but is part of a broader view of the dangers that lie in hero worship and our obsession with celebrity.
Vintage archive footage of The Beatles and John Lennon shape our sense of Chapman’s victim and Lennon is briefly impersonated in a recreation of the day Chapman shot him to death. The film in no way diminishes the tragedy of Lennon’s loss but it also allows us a better understanding of Chapman’s unbalanced mind and the poignancy of someone who felt betrayed by his hero.
End titles remind us that Chapman has spent the past twenty-five years in solitary confinement for his own protection and his request for parole has been refused three times. It is a sober conclusion to a sad and haunting film.
Cinema for All – V.A. MacIan
Andrew Piddington has achieved what few other filmmakers have even attempted; he has made arguably one of the most infamous and hated figures in popular culture, human. Jonas Ball, who is perfectly cast as Mark David Chapman, narrates the entire film using Chapman’s own words, gained from journals and testimony, leaving the viewer feeling as if he or she were in fact a confidant of Chapman and witness to the unfolding events.
Struggling with insecurity and insatiability and devoid of a sense of purpose in life, Chapman found what he was searching for in the words of JD Salinger’s A Catcher In The Rye. He identified with the story’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield and unfortunate happenstance lead him to see John Lennon as his nemesis. Chapman, who admitted to being a fan of John Lennon and of the Beatles, was incensed by what he saw as the “phony” lifestyle lead by Lennon. In particular, he obsessed that Lennon sang, “Imagine no possessions…” yet owned multiple homes and lived a life of glamour and luxury. Ultimately, he stalked Lennon and in an act he saw as retribution, he murdered him in the entryway of the Dakota Building in New York City in December 1980.
Avoiding the clichéd description and dismissal of other high profile murderers, who invariably are classified as being either a “victim of society” or simply evil, Piddington and Ball give breath and breadth to a real man. Chapman’s crime renders him a character with whom humanity is unable to sympathize. But watching this man, haunted by mental illness, unable to maintain healthy relationships with his dysfunctional parents, and aware of his growing instability, compels the viewer to take a peek at the man behind the monstrous crime.
While The Killing of John Lennon is a truly profound look at the thin line between sociopathy and obsessed fan, this film is also a wonderful look at what dedicated film makers can achieve. Obviously recreating 1980’s New York City on a limited budget isn’t practical, but the occasional shot of a modern NY didn’t detract from the experience in the slightest. I especially appreciated the irony of the scene in which Chapman (having just murdered Lennon) is being questioned by the police, while Silent Night, Holly Night plays over the 20th precinct’s intercom system. This work is eminently watchable, beautifully crafted, and considering that the work was shot on a small budget, something that any aspiring be film maker should watch.
Rock-and-roll twins and a psycho killer
S F Said reports from the Edinburgh Film Festival
The most intriguing British film so far has been The Killing of John Lennon, a dramatic reconstruction of the events leading to Mark Chapman’s assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Initially, it feels a little aimless, like its protagonist, but from the moment when Chapman decides to kill Lennon, it becomes utterly riveting.
Jonas Ball gives a remarkable performance as Chapman: all his words are drawn from Chapman’s journals, and in the gulf between the strangeness of those words and Ball’s calm, almost musical delivery, there is a terrifying, psychotic void.
Made by first-time writer-director Andrew Piddington on a tiny budget, the film was totally unheralded – yet it’s original, ambitious and very absorbing. It’s a surprise of the best kind, and a reminder of what Edinburgh is all about.
Edinburgh FF TKOJL
In the footsteps of the assassin…
A true independent, the widescreen look of Andrew Piddington’s latest feature belies its modest budget: no shabby exploitation-style thriller, it’s instead a supremely well-crafted, handsomely made meditation on the relationship between celebrities and their public – as well as a journey into the twisted mind of killer Mark David Chapman, from his background in Hawaii all the way to his final, fatal rendezvous outside the Dakota Building in December 1980. (All Chapman’s dialogue comes from his own journals and statements.) As the fan-turned-zealot, newcomer Jonas Ball is extraordinary, and the film – privately financed, shot over three years in various locations across the US – is a shrewd, semi-impressionistic
look at the fine line separating hero-worship and psychosis. It will doubtless become one of the most talked-about titles of the year.
Happiness was a warm gun for Lennon’s killer and a big con for Kubrick’s impersonator. Both light up the screen.
By: Jason Solomons
Continuing the connections, two of the most interesting films in the large selection of new British movies competing for the Michael Powell Award were about delusional loners obsessed with celebrity
Similar sentiments were expressed by Mark Chapman who, in December 1980, shot John Lennon five times outside the Dakota Building in New York. The Killing of John Lennon provided the festival’s most controversial film, taking us into the warped mind of one of the world’s first celebrity stalkers and seeking, for the first time on film, to expound on one of the most famous murders in history.
To his credit, director and writer Andrew Piddington doesn’t make a hero or even an anti-hero out of Chapman. The 25-year-old killer from Honolulu is presented as thoroughly deranged, dangerous and terrifyingly misguided, played as he is with impressive edginess by newcomer Jonas Ball.
Piddington based his script on published interviews with Chapman and the man’s own diary entries, and the ultra-low budget film is dense, claustrophobic and compelling, re-creating New York’s tawdry atmosphere with skill. It stood out as a noteworthy world premiere at the festival.
A stalker who shocked the world
By: Victoria Durham
Like most people who are old enough, the writer and director Andrew Piddington remembers what he was doing when he heard John Lennon had been shot in December 1980. “I was making a series of films for television that had a lot of Beatles archive material in them,” he recalls, “so it was very pertinent.”
Although not especially a fan of The Beatles’ music, the man behind the feature film about Lennon’s assassin, Mark Chapman, does insist: “I believe very much in the spirit of John Lennon and I dislike intensely the nature of the man who brought him down.”
Piddington knew he was dealing with a sensitive subject in dramatising the story after last year’s Channel 4 documentary I Killed John Lennon was criticised by the musician’s family for supposedly glorifying Chapman, yet he had compelling reasons to make it. “This film does not set out to exonerate Chapman in any way,” he says. “He was very calculating, very cold and the interesting psychosis of the man is one reason for making this film. The story needs to be told because it’s another way of gaining insight into what these narcissistic people are driven to do.”
Piddington filmed over three years in Hawaii, Georgia and New York, and researched the film using a combination of press cuttings, police files and books from around the time of the shooting. “It’s all based on firm, hard evidence,” he says. He specifically chose newcomer Jonas Ball to play Chapman to avoid “the baggage you have with a known actor”.
Piddington says he is looking forward to “opening up a dialogue” on The Killing of John Lennon at the 60th annual Edinburgh International Film Festival, as he believes the story has added resonance in today’s celebrity-obsessed world. “Chapman was the first celebrity stalker,” he says. “That’s as interesting today as it was then.”
Edinburgh International Film Festival 14 to 27 August; ‘The Killing of John Lennon’ is shown on 15 and 16 August (www.edfilmfest.org.uk)
Festival Film: The Killing of John Lennon
By: Miles Fielder
This portrait of Mark David Chapman, the man who shot and killed the former Beatle in December 1980, begins by sketching in Chapman’s background – his years living away from the world on Hawaii; his antagonistic relationship with his mother and his domineering one with his wife – in the manner of a conventional biopic.
But this approach, joining the dots between cause and effect, is soon ditched for an altogether more impressionistic style aimed at getting inside the head of a killer. And with a convincing performance by Jonas Ball, the film largely does that.
It’s a handsomely assembled film, shot in widescreen with numerous stylistic flourishes, and occasionally reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s mediation of the mind of a killer, Taxi Driver. All of this belies the fact that British film-maker Andrew Piddington filmed The Killing of John Lennon over a three-year period in various locations around the US on a modest and fully self-financed budget.
Scotland on Sunday
Kudos comes from taking risks
By: Alan Hunter
ANDREW PIDDINGTON also reveals a striking talent with his direction of The Killing Of John Lennon. There may be an instant, knee-jerk resistance to a film about Mark David Chapman but this is neither sensationalistic nor lurid. It offers a measured, impressionistic portrait of a killer that invites us to enter the mind of a man who emerges as something of a lost soul. The most obvious comparison is with Taxi Driver and Chapman feels an affinity with the alienation of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle.
The film has a great cinematic sweep as it depicts the months leading Chapman from Hawaii to his obsessive pursuit of Lennon and his fatal encounter outside the Dakota Building in December 1980. The tragedy of Lennon’s death is not diminished by the film but it provides greater understanding of how a troubled mind can transform an idol into an object of irrational hatred. Jonas Ball offers a subtle, well-rounded impersonation of Chapman in one of the Edinburgh discoveries that deserves wider exposure.
The Sunday Times – Scotland
Lennon movie leaves little to the imagination
A biopic of the killer Mark Chapman is too forensic in its attention to detail, writes Karin Goodwin
The assassination of John Lennon on a winter’s night in New York, is burned into the memory of almost everyone over a certain age in the western world. For millions of fans, that senseless moment seemed to signify the end of an era. To Andrew Piddington, the director of a new film about Lennon’s killer, Mark Chapman, it marked the beginning of an obsession.
After several years researching the minutiae of Chapman’s life, Piddington is finally ready to unveil The Killing of John Lennon, the first biopic to offer an insight into the twisted mind of the notorious killer, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
From the start Piddington, a veteran television director, knew the decision to make a film about the assassination on December 8, 1980 was not going to be universally popular.
“The killing of John Lennon is a volatile subject that still generates a lot of emotion,” he admits. “In taking on such a subject through the eyes of his killer we are almost inviting adverse criticism and scorn. But I didn’t want to take any soft options. I know the realism could upset people, but I feel we have a responsibility to the truth.”
It seems unlikely that Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, will appreciate Piddington’s efforts. In a recent interview she said documentaries and films about Chapman — such as Chapter 27, a second film about Chapman to be directed by Jarrett Schaeffer, and planned for 2007 — bring back painful memories.
For Piddington, the key difference between this film and its rivals, is its truthfulness. “I didn’t want to misrepresent the psychosis of the man in any way,” he says. “It in no way exonerates or sympathises with him.”
The script is a work of verbatim screenwriting extracted from police statements, interviews, journals and psychiatrists’ transcripts, and recreated in a chilling voice-over by Jonas Ball, the actor playing the killer.
Piddington combed New York’s junk shops, searching out Chapman’s dark glasses, Hawaiian shirt and a period copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which Chapman was clutching when he shot Lennon.
Location shooting was arranged with the same precision. The tiny low-budget film crew went to Decatur, Georgia, where Chapman attended Columbia High School, and to Hawaii, where he purchased the Charter Arms .38 revolver he used to kill Lennon.
But it is the final section of the film, after Chapman had been charged with second-degree murder and sent to Attica state prison, near Buffalo, in upstate New York for 20 years, which Piddington believes is the most chilling.
Cold and remorseless, Chapman’s pride in becoming “the biggest nobody who killed the biggest somebody” is revealed with hammer blows.
Perhaps most moving is the exploration of just how random an act of violence this ultimately was. In interviews with psychiatrists, Chapman admitted that Lennon, was merely one individual on a long list of celebrities who could have become his victims.
“In the end this film explores three tragedies,” says Piddington. “There is the tragedy of John Lennon and the fact that we will never know what he could have achieved.
“There is also the tragedy of this 25-year-old who needed psychological help and didn’t get it in time. And there is the tragedy of their families who have to come to terms with what happened. To me, therein lies the desolation.”