Film Review: “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” – When John and Yoko Briefly Became John and May
By Ed Symkus
A new documentary about the John Lennon and May Pang affair is insightful but not exactly unbiased.
The Lost Weekend: A Love Story, directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman, and Stuart Samuels. It’s screening at Boston Common 19 and the Kendall Square Cinema.
Almost six decades ago, the Beatles conquered America, and caused a seismic shift in pop culture the world over. In all probability, unless a long-lost cache of unreleased recordings shows up, we’ve heard all of the songs they completed. But there are, without a doubt, stories aplenty about the band, its separate members, and outsiders who were privy to their inner circle still to tell. In the early-to-mid-1970s, May Pang was a significant character in the third category.
The narration at the start of The Lost Weekend: A Love Story states casually, “John Lennon and Yoko Ono were married in 1969. They remained virtually inseparable, with one major exception.”
That exception involved Lennon moving out of his home in late 1973 and, over an 18-month period, living with May Pang who, 10 years his junior, was at the time the personal assistant to Lennon and Ono.
In the first taste of a great deal of archival footage, Pang, appearing on a long-ago Good Morning America broadcast, says that, because of the false reports, she wants to straighten out the history of what happened. Moments later, her voice introduces herself and the film: “My name is May Pang, and this is my story.”
And it is her story, told in full-blown subjectivity, solely from her point of view.
Among the film’s major strengths are the plentiful supply of archival footage and photos; the frantic pace that’s maintained; and the chatty, informative demeanor taken on by Pang, whose off-screen narration is a constant from beginning to end.
What might be its major weakness is the lack of objectivity, the suggestion of other perspectives. Over the year-and-a-half of their relationship, Pang and Lennon were pretty much as inseparable as Lennon and Ono had been before (and after) it, shacking up together in the British countryside west of London, in New York, and in L.A. But all these years later, with Lennon long gone, we only get her side of what went down.
The film’s early sections offer up biographical info. Pang’s parents left China to follow the American dream, and she was raised in New York’s Spanish Harlem. “Dad was an atheist and mom was a Buddhist. So, naturally, they sent me to Catholic school. Dad fought with mom, and I fought with the nuns,” she says, showing off her droll wit.
She was an ardent fan of pop and rock and, having been born in 1950, was at just the right age to be bowled over by the Beatles leading the British invasion. When she was 19, and a college dropout, Pang interviewed for a job at ABKCO Records, the New York company that managed the Beatles Apple Corps in London, and scored a gig typing, filing, and answering phones.
After that point we are treated to a barrage of clips — including TV newscasts, home movies, and promotional videos — that cover the distressing last days of the Fab Four, Lennon and Ono’s 1971 arrival in New York to make the short experimental films Up Your Legs Forever and Fly, and Pang’s right time-right place assignment by Apple to be their sort of “girl Friday,” which led soon after to Lennon and Ono asking her to move to their English estate and become their full-time assistant.
The film is breezy and fun until it gets to the point where Pang reveals Ono’s penchant for manipulating everyone and everything around her. Of central importance here — again, this is Pang’s version — is the tale of Ono discovering that Lennon was cheating on her, then making the decision that since he wouldn’t change, Ono could make sure that he cheated with only one woman — someone she could control: Pang.
Pang refused, but Ono was her boss, and she demanded it.
The fling, which apparently was supposed to last one weekend, was, according to footage and photos and Pang’s memories, a time of great happiness and deep love for the couple, though it was also fraught with challenges, mostly due to Lennon’s out-of-control behavior when they were living in L.A. It lasted, in Pang’s telling, until Ono said to her, “It’s time for me to take John back.”
The film provides a fascinating glimpse into a momentous period in the lives of some celebrated individuals. But a fundamental question remains: Is it accurate? Only May Pang, who comes across as extremely sincere, knows.
Ed Symkus is a Boston native and Emerson College graduate. Among his accomplishments: He went to Woodstock, interviewed Edward Gorey, Ray Bradbury, Ted Nugent, and Kathryn Bigelow, and has visited the Outer Hebrides, the Lofoten Islands, Anglesey, Mykonos, the Azores, Catalina, Kangaroo Island, and the Isle of Capri with his wife Lisa.