I’ve always admired artists who make bad artistic choices and commit to them.
I don’t mean a project that spins out of control, like Heaven’s Gate. I don’t mean someone like Billy Squier, who was duped into prancing around like a fabulously gay pole dancer in the Rock Me Tonight video, then promptly disavowed it and went into hiding. I mean someone like Chloe Sevigny. She gave Vincent Gallo a real blow job on film for the Brown Bunny, and recovered to go on to even more success.
In Chapter 27, the 2007 biopic about the last days of Mark David Chapman’s life before he murdered John Lennon, Jared Leto makes a choice and he commits to it. Not only did the famously handsome actor gain 50 pounds for the role of Lennon’s largely forgotten killer, he seems to have spent considerably time working himself up into the role of a physically unattractive, schizophrenic misfit. The star of My So Called life, the young Adonis who sent the hearts of the girls (and probably a few gay boys) of late Generation X aflutter now sports a normcore wardrobe, a boxy, unstylish 1970s haircut, and a pair of large, square framed eyeglasses.
Unfortunately Leto, who’s drawn fire for the transgender community for his “appropriation” of their culture in Dallas Buyers Club, seems to be the only person involved in Chapter 27 — Catcher in the Rye has 26 chapters — who committed to the movie. Lindsey Lohan shows up as a John Lennon groupie, and Judah Friedlander is credible as a member of the paparazzi, but, for the most part, everybody else involved in Chapter 27 seems a little embarrassed to be there. It’s the kind of film an actor puts on his IMDB profile only if he lacks the extensive credits that would allow him to leave it off.
I did learn one thing from Chapter 27. I’m old enough to remember Lennon’s murder, but I had no idea that there was a kind of “Occupy the Dakota” on 72nd Street after the release of Double Fantasy. Poor John Lennon. He should have called the riot police and had them cleared off his front porch. Does Chapter 27 have an anti-paparazzi, anti-autograph hound subtext? It certainly comes off that way. Most the the people occupying the gate in front of the Dakota were harmless misfits and casual tourists. But among them was Mark David Chapman.
A profile of fans so committed to a has been rock star that they spent hours waiting to harass him at home might have been an interesting movie. An exploration of what made lost souls like Lindsey Lohan’s “Jude” (yeah I know) hang out on the Upper West side for a glimpse of the elusive ex-Beatle, could have been a fascinating look into the wreckage left behind the 1960s and the cult of celebrity rock stars, but none them receive much attention. A genuine exploration into the mind of Mark David Chapman might also have made for a decent screenplay. Even an Alex Jones style conspiracy movie about how Ronald Reagan wanted to mark his inauguration by eliminating a possible political opponent would have been more interesting than this.
Perhaps the entire point of Chapter 27, apart of “Jared Leto plays ugly, is that there isn’t a point. Anders Behring Brevik, Timothy McVeigh, and Mohamed Mohamed all had rational, if despicable justifications for killing innocent people. Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner just seem nuts.
(Attention Alex Jones fans. Leto and Loughner have the same first names Make of it what you will.)
In the end, Mark David Chapman was no more interesting than James Holmes or Jared Loughner. He was just a poor, lost soul with no connection to reality. The only reason we remember him at all is because he killed John Lennon.
Perhaps it was Chapman who raised the ex-Beatle to mythical status. Lennon was a great rock musician, but, he was no more talented than Neil Young or Mick Jagger. What’s more, Lennon was no revolutionary. After writing Revolution as an attack on Jagger’s Street Fighting Man, he finally came around to joining the left after the Beatles broke up. But let’s face it, had he lived, he wouldn’t have transformed the face of American politics. He would have been, at best, another dependable progressive celebrity like Sean Penn or Mark Ruffalo. Imagining (pun intended) that Mark David Chapman killed a potential saviour is to fall into the same cult of celebrity worship the groupies around the Dakota did.