LET IT BE, REVISITED (2024): Once more in reel time

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LET IT BE, REVISITED (2024): Once more in reel time

At the start of this new version of the Beatles' 1970 documentary Let It Be, the original director Michael Lindsay Hogg (MLH) speaks briefly with Peter Jackson who used eight hours of (mostly) unseen footage shot by MLH for his expansive Get Back feature of 2021.

In a comment which deserves close inspection, Jackson observes that MLH was seeing the music in real time as new songs were being presented, discovered and rehearsed. These were songs which by the time the documentary appeared fans were familiar with and knew all the words.

2But there was MLH and his crew grabbing at the magic (and mostly filming loose jams, boredom and downtime) and having to weld it into some kind of shape.

Which is why throughout Get Back we see MLH pushing for some kind of big finish, like the band playing in an ancient amphitheatre in Libya. It would have been the crescendo he envisaged for a documentary which was slipping away from him more and more every day, not the least when George Harrison abruptly quit.

To put ourselves in MLH's place is instructive, to try to feel the history as it was happening.

Screenshot_2024_05_23_at_10.30.26_AMNot being there and with decades of hindsight and analysis means that is impossible, but at least we can – some of us anyway – remember what seeing the original Let It Be was like.

When it screened at a cinema on Auckland's Queen St in late 1970 it seemed to me – at age 19 – that every hippie, stoner or university student in the city was there that afternoon.

The Beatles were newsworthy for their break-up, especially John Lennon's media-grabbing with Yoko Ono (the Bed Ins for peace) and the singles Cold Turkey and Instant Karma.

But already their music was sounding passé.

Rock had subdivided into more noisy off-shoots, side alleys and alternative sounds.

However there was still great anticipation. Let It Be was, we already knew, the Beatles as we'd never seen them: in the studio, chatting, rehearsing.

When Paul McCartney appeared some girls screamed. We laughed at them and they shut up pretty quick.

This wasn't 1964 – which already seemed a distant age of innocence – but a more jaded time of adulthood, marijuana and Vietnam. Hendrix and Janis were dead, the musical world stretched from Black Sabbath to The Band, Elton and Crosby Stills Nash and Young had arrived. Led Zeppelin were the biggest band on the planet.

So back then the audience was as jaded and distant from pop pleasures as those on the screen.

In later years when Let It Be was no longer available, the myth grew that it was a film of a band pulling itself apart. True in some measure, but in my memory however it remained a small window into the internal dynamics and working method of the world's biggest and most influential band, then a joyful rooftop concert at the end.

But in the absence of the film to provide contrary evidence – bootleg copies notwithstanding -- the myth perpetuated and grew.

Until three years ago and Peter Jackson's expansive Get Back doco using hours of previously unseen original footage shot by MLH and his crew.

We saw more humour and camaraderie than gloom and sniping, even though Harrison quits.

Screenshot_2024_05_23_at_10.31.12_AMWe could wonder at how MLH missed one of the greatest moments during the shoot: when Paul McCartney pick up his bass and jams for many minutes before stumbling on “get back, get back”. As an insight into the spark of creativity it is priceless.

Now Let It Be gets the Jackson hi-definition and enhanced sound treatment but -- by being tweaked and edited -- it's a disjunctive if enjoyable oddity.

So much goes unexplained by the absence of McCartney trying to impress on the band his vision of how the doco could be, which would explain why they are in that huge warehouse space.

So much left hanging: How come Billy Preston – who many wouldn't recognise – just appears? Why are we now somewhere else? Then on the roof?

This version of Let It Be requires Jackson's Get Back providing the context and – aside from some tetchiness from Harrison and obvious boredom by Lennon and Starr -- it's also not the misery of myth.

It's like a showreel compendium of rehearsals and congenial jamming (a Reader's Digest Condensed Edition) but the rooftop concert more complete than Get Back. It seems Jackson didn't want to repeat footage used in Get Back but in the editing much has been lost.

Maybe at some point there will be a demand for the full original edition to be restored using the Jackson technology?

The original Let It Be arrived after the album of the same name, a middling and disappointing coda to their career. It took the gloss off the superior Abbey Road recorded after the filmed events.

This version of Let It Be is not great or even coherent as it favours the music over the conversations and context.

In that brief interview opening the re-presentation, Jackson chats politely with a grateful if deluded Lindsay-Hogg who suffered collateral damage when his film arrived like a bleak obituary.

He still believes, despite all he witnessed then and the Get Back evidence now, it was his idea they go on the roof and that he nearly got the Beatles to perform in an amphitheatre.

“It didn't get a fair shake the first time,” he says of his Let It Be, hopefully burnishing his reputation. “Finally it's going to get a chance to be embraced for the curious and fascinating character that it is.”

This edition is less fascinating, but certainly more curious.


Let It Be screens on Disney+

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