Monday, February 27, 2012

Stubs - Let It Be

LET IT BE (1970) Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Mal Evans, Yoko Ono and George Martin. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Produced by Neil Aspinall. Songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Run Time: 81 minutes. Color. UK. Documentary

It all comes down to this. The penultimate project of the Beatles as a group before breaking up, Let It Be documents the disintegration of the band that defined music in the 1960s. What the documentary set out to do was something very different. After the unpleasant recording sessions for the previous album, The Beatles aka The White Album, the group wasn’t sure how to proceed. Despite the album’s title, the recording sessions had been less a cooperative effort, with Paul and John oftentimes recording in different studios. George Martin, the Beatles longtime producer, left for a holiday in the middle of the sessions and even Ringo quit the group for a couple of weeks, tired he was of how things were going.

By 1969, Paul had taken over leadership of the band. He was filling the hole left when John, who was more fascinated with Yoko Ono than the Beatles, abdicated his position as leader of the group. Paul wanted very much for the band to continue and looked for ways of creating harmony. His first idea was to tour again, but the others were not open to it. Then the idea was to play a live concert, but once again, despite throwing around a lot of ideas, they couldn’t decide on one. They finally decided on a TV special of the band performing new songs and it was suggested that they film their rehearsals as part of perhaps a companion special. To this end, the Beatles hired Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the director of some of their earlier promotional films for "Paperback Writer", "Rain", "Hey Jude" and "Revolution".

Filming began on January 2, 1969 at Twickenham Film Studios in London. Since the group was working with a film crew, they had to work more during the day than at night, which had become their preferred work time. The film studio, unlike Abbey Road Studios, where the group had done most of their recordings, was cold and austere. This combined with being followed around constantly by a camera crew and it is easy to see that tension within the group did not get better. 

Twickenham Studios was not conducive to recording and harmony. 
On January 10th, Harrison announced he was leaving the band (in a scene omitted from the film). While rehearsals and filming continued in his absence, Harrison did agree to return on the 15th. However, he had conditions, including moving the recording sessions to Apple Records and abandoning the idea of an elaborate live concert. 

George also wanted Billy Preston (l) to be in on the sessions.
However, filming was to continue for a feature film to complete the group’s obligation to UA for a third film. (UA did not accept their brief live appearance in Yellow Submarine as a Beatles film.)

On January 21st, filming began again. In order to improve the vibe, George invited Billy Preston, a keyboardist the Beatles had known since 1962 to join them. During these sessions, the Beatles apparently played many songs that were not featured in the film or would appear on a Beatles record. During the film we do see the band run through McCartney’s "Teddy Boy", which appeared on this first solo album the next year. They also work on some songs that would appear on the next and last studio album, Abbey Road; "Maxwell Silver’s Hammer", "Oh! Darling" and "Octopus’s Garden".

In an effort to complete the film, the Beatles agreed on January 30th, to do a lunchtime rooftop concert. From those sessions, the next Beatles single "Get Back" and its B-side; "Don’t Let Me Down" would be culled.

The last Beatles live appearance was the lunch time roof top concert that ends Let It Be.
The final film shows the Beatles falling apart, but still managing to make some pretty good music along the way. One of the original concepts of the album was to just have the Beatles play, and the film retains some of that with Paul singing "Besame Mucho", a standard they no doubt covered in Hamburg and used in their Decca audition. The group also plays covers of "You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me", "Rip It Up", "Shake, Rattle and Roll", "Kansas City", and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and others from their Hamburg days, some which they had previously released.

Despite the bickering, which the film manages to document, including a famous exchange between George and Paul prior to the former’s departure, there is a feeling of nostalgia. Paul can be seen talking about footage of them he had recently seen of them following after the Maharishi Yogi looking like they were in a trance (if memory serves me.) The group also rerecords one of their earliest songs "One After 909", the original recording of which dates back to March 1963 and can be found on the Beatles Anthology 1 album.

And despite the discord one can sense while watching, the Beatles still manage to make some great songs, including "Get Back", "Don’t Let Me Down", "Two of Us" and "I’ve Got A Feeling", all of which seem to show the Beatles enjoying playing together. "I’ve Got A Feeling" is a throwback of sorts, as it seems to be a combination of snippets that John and Paul had written individually, a la "A Day In The Life" from the Pepper album.

John and Paul could make great music together. Here they're singing "Two of Us".
Overall, the quality of the film is not helped by the fact that the original footage was shot in 16mm, blown up to 35 mm and then edited from full-frame to a wider aspect ratio by cropping off the top and bottom of every frame. So the resulting film is grainy and the composition within the frames differs from what was originally shot.

There are two problems with writing a review about the film Let It Be. First is that the soundtrack album, produced by the infamous Phil Spector, features versions of songs not found in the film, leaves out "Don't Let Me Down" entirely and, of course, the songs are overdubbed, in some cases adding strings and a choir. An attempt to correct that, Let It Be…Naked, really isn’t much better. McCartney’s 2003 attempt to strip away Spector’s Wall of Sound, sometimes uses different takes than what appeared on the 1970 soundtrack. Naked also changes the running order and eliminates the ambient talking. So one can’t listen to either and remember how it was shown in the film.

The album Let It Be isn't a true soundtrack to the movie of the same name.

The second problem is that this final Beatles film has never been released on DVD, though it was briefly released on VHS in the 1980s. It is reported that the surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, don’t want it released, since it shows the group in a bad light. And that is true. 

This is not the happy go lucky Beatles of A Hard Day’s Night. This is the real group at the precipice of its own dissolution. But by now, everyone knows the story and no one would be shocked to watch them bicker their way through another project. The Beatles themselves discussed the end of the group in their own Anthology documentary series.

But for a group that wanted to give their fans the best they could, it is time to once again let the fans see the men behind the curtain. Let It Be should be released so that the fans of the group can see the reality of what happened and not rely on the memories of those who managed to see it before the Beatles withdrew it from the public.

For other Beatles films, see our Beatles Film Review Hub:

1 comment:

  1. I didn't enjoy this film when it was originally released, mostly because of the on-screen discord. But, I now appreciate the historical perspective LET IT BE provides.