‘Let it Be,’ 40 years later
Believe it or not, a “Beatles anniversary” just passed and we didn’t hear a thing about it.
Yes, the media has gone wacky over such notable anniversaries as the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, the Fab Four’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and, well, just a lot of things.
However, the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ Let it Be movie went largely unnoticed. The movie debuted in New York City on May 13, 1970, and in London a week later.
It actually might not be a bad thing that people don’t go out of their way to acknowledge that depressing piece of film. All that came out of it, really, was a movie featuring four people who didn’t see like each other all that much and a fair-to-middling album(by Beatles standards, anyway — the “Naked”version of the album is a nice alternative to the one Phil Spector overproduced).
Yes, Let it Be was supposed to be a documentary of the Beatles getting back to its roots by writing and practicing songs that could be played live (something that was impossible with albums such as the aforementioned Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour). In fact, the resulting film and soundtrack were both supposed to be called Get Back but that didn’t even go right.
The idea was that the Beatles would be filmed rehearsing and getting ready for a huge concert somewhere. The Fabs headed to a studio in January 1969, went to work and made, well, a mess.
Let it Be is a hard thing to watch. Most of the rehearsals are sloppy and marked by obvious problems between the band members throughout. Most famous is Paul McCartney telling George Harrison how to play (or not play, actually) guitar during “Two of Us.” Harrison, who looks absolutely miserable throughout the movie, growls back at McCartney.
In fact, that little spat caused Harrison to quit the band for a bit and then come back with session keyboardist Billy Preston in tow. Harrison’s brief split with the band was conveniently left out of the movie.
Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg has said in interviews that a lot of material was left out of the film as the Beatles believed that the rough cut of the film cast them in a negative light. If the resulting film is the sanitized version, one must wonder how bad the rough one must have been.
McCartney is the only member of the band who seems the least bit interested in the project. Harrison, as already mentioned, looks miserable while John Lennon and Ringo Starr just seem bored as McCartney prattles on about concerts and generally acts like his enthusiasm might somehow become contagious.
Meanwhile, Yoko Ono hovers around Lennon throughout the film and is generally a creepy presence. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting much work done with her lurking around in the background constantly.
Of course, there are some high points in the movie. The scenes featuring Preston are generally fun as all get-out and that’s shouldn’t come as a surprise — Harrison has said the keyboardist’s presence in the sessions caused everyone to behave. You also get some fantastic versions of “Two of Us,” Let it Be,” “For You Blue” and a hard-driving, unreleased rockabilly number called “Suzy Parker.” It’s also revealing to watch Harrison and Starr work through “Octopus’s Garden” and watch the band work through songs that would eventually wind up on the “Abbey Road” album.
You also see some very, very sloppy numbers and can’t help feel bad at one point where Harrison’s only role in a song is to plunk out bass guitar lines on his Fender Telecaster. That song, of course, is “Two of Us” — looks like Paul won that fight, after all.
The first half of the film, then, is largely unpleasant and causes the viewer to wonder how the heck those guys could possibly continue to make music. Although this is the sanitized, make nice version of the film, it’s impossible not to notice that we’re watching four men who can barely tolerate each other at times.
Ah, but this is a story about redemption, too. The idea of a huge concert fell to pieces throughout the film. The band members did, however, agree to get up on the roof the studio during lunch hour in London and play a few songs.
That concert is, without a doubt, the highlight of the film. Those lads that were bored, squabbling, bang out sloppy songs and generally leading the audience to wonder how this band managed to get anything done. Those doubters get their answer soon enough. As soon as the band launches into “Get Back,” one can’t help but feel a sense of both admiration and a bit of sadness — that’s a heck of a good band on the screen and it’s just a shame they couldn’t pull it together for at least a few more years.
The band and Preston also run through “Dig a Pony,” “Don’t Let me Down,” “One After 909″ and another version of “Get Back” prior to the cops showing up and shutting everything down. Sadly, that was the last time the band performed live and someone went and called the police on them. That really makes sense considering what a mess the rest of the movie is.
Given the tensions on display throughout the film, it’s no wonder the resulting album is decidedly uneven. What is surprising is that the next album (and the last one from the band) was the outstanding “Abbey Road.”
Another thing that shouldn’t be surprising is that this movie isn’t available commercially, forcing people who want to watch it to go searching for bootlegs, prowling around on Torrent sites or hoping they can find an old video tape or laserdisc somewhere.
It’s been rumored that we’ll not see a version an official release of this movie as long as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are alive. It’s hard to blame them for blocking such a release — who wants to remember the Beatles like this?
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.