May Pang’s story finally comes to the big screen
It was one of the strangest of rock star threesomes, with a rock star couple’s personal assistant pressed into service as the husband’s romantic partner, with the full consent of his wife.
That was the position erstwhile Apple Records employee May Pang found herself in, in 1973, when she became John Lennon’s companion during what he later famously dubbed his “lost weekend,” a reference to Billy Wilder’s 1945 film The Lost Weekend, about an alcoholic writer. Lennon’s lost weekend lasted from mid-1973 to early 1975, as he drifted between New York and Los Angeles, working on his Walls and Bridges and Rock ‘n’ Roll albums and generating tabloid headlines due to his occasional drunken exploits.
Having previously told her story in the long out of print 1983 memoir Loving John, Pang returns with a new documentary The Lost Weekend: A Love Story. It’s an effort to reclaim her narrative, having seen the relationship dissected in numerous books and films over the years. And however much you think you know about this period in Lennon’s life, the film does provide some new insights, along with an abundance of rare photos and other ephemera (Lennon doodles, etc.) from Pang’s archives that Lennon fans in particular will enjoy getting a look at.
To start with, you get more of Pang’s own background, as she describes growing up as a “minority among minorities,” a Chinese American raised in New York’s Spanish Harlem, and explains how a job search in midtown Manhattan unexpectedly led her to the Beatles’ Apple Records office in New York. By the time she was hired, the Beatles had broken up, but their solo careers were flourishing, and Pang found herself working on their various projects.
Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were so taken with Pang they eventually hired her to be their personal assistant. Then, Pang claims, one day Ono met with her, explained that she and Lennon were separating, and suggested that Pang become his new consort. Ono’s account is more nuanced; she told Lennon biographer Philip Norman she asked Pang to be with Lennon as an “assistant” during their separation, though she conceded she knew a sexual relationship might happen. Regardless, Pang was not initially interested in such a liaison, until she was won over by Lennon’s advances, which occurred while he was in the midst of making his Mind Games album.
The film doesn’t address whether this was tantamount to sexual harassment, or at the very least coercive control. Which is in keeping with its perspective of holding Ono to account while letting Lennon off the hook. If the affair comes off as being orchestrated by Ono, Lennon is just as culpable in its machinations. He transitions easily from employer to lover, while expecting Pang to continue serving as his personal assistant — without being paid for it (Pang says when she got together with Lennon, Ono cut off her salary). Lennon’s physical violence with Pang is also played down, with Pang saying he only hit her “a couple of times.”
And while not stated explicitly, Lennon never comes across being as totally committed to the relationship. Reference is made to Ono continually calling the couple throughout the separation, meaning that while the two might have made a physical break, they never made an emotional one. Pang recalls that when Ono suggested divorcing and Lennon called her bluff and agreed, Ono instantly backed down, saying the “stars weren’t right.” Yet Lennon never made any move to instigate divorce proceedings himself. And when Pang hears from Ono that she wants Lennon back, she says it filled her with trepidation; not the reaction of someone who feels secure in their relationship.
The only Lennon who seems to have had a lasting love for Pang is his son Julian, who spent time with Pang while visiting his father and is featured throughout the film. Conversely, the elder Lennon abruptly curtailed his relationship with Pang in February 1975, returning to Ono with nary a look back. As he rather callously told a reporter while promoting his Rock ‘n’ Roll album later that year, “[May] knew what the scene was from the start. Neither Yoko nor I left each other for another person. We just sort of blew up. Blew apart. And then sort of filled in, so as not to be alone at night. I don’t want to put May down. She is a nice girl. But she knew what the scene was.”
Overall, the film is bittersweet, less a love story than an account of a young woman (Pang was 22 when she became involved with Lennon; he was 32) who was placed into a situation that took her way out of her depth. Pang focuses on her more upbeat times with Lennon (recording sessions, trips to Las Vegas), and her fondness for him was such that she continued to see him even after he’d reconciled with his wife. But though Pang is anxious to not be seen as a victim, you’re still left with the sense that this was a woman who was taken advantage of.
The film is narrated by Pang, and draws on archive footage of her many other interviews, along with animated linking sequences. Unfortunately, many of the newer audio-only interviews (with the likes of Elton John and music executive Tony King) are poorly recorded, sounding as if they’re coming over an ancient landline. That aside, this is a well-paced film that holds your attention, particularly if you’re a Lennon fan. It’s an unadulterated look at May Pang’s side of the story.
And through it all, her clear affection for the complicated character that was John Lennon, remains undimmed.
For information on screening times, go to https://www.maypang.com/the-lost-weekend
VIDEO: The Lost Weekend: A Love Story trailer