This year, I’ve been writing about films I feel are “overlooked”—forgotten works that, good or bad, are worth considering. Let It Be, the documentary film about the Beatles recording their 1970 album of the same name, has been BURIED. Though released on VHS in 1981 and on RCA CED disc in 1982, Let It Be has been out of print on home video for almost 35 years. Is Apple Corp. waiting for every first-generation Beatles fan to die before they will re-release a re-mastered, legitimate version?
Let It Be contains essentially three pieces. The first section of the film takes place at Twickenham Film Studios and details the Beatles rehearsing. The studio was cold, and the Beatles were not used to early film studio hours; they were more accustomed to recording at Abbey Road Studios late at night. George Harrison described these Twickenham sessions as “the lowest low, miserable.” John Lennon described them as “hell;” of course, the fact that he was then strung out on heroin could not have helped.
The third section involves the Beatles last-minute compromise to end the show with some sort of live concert. Not wishing to travel, they simply went up to the Apple rooftop on Thursday, January 30th, and played for the delighted and bewildered lunchtime crowd on the street below.
Although Beatle fans and film critics now consider Let It Be a document of the bickering and bad feelings that eventually split up the group, there is a lot to like in this intimate, 80-minute film. Here are a few of my favorite moments:
1) John Lennon and Paul McCartney share a microphone on “Two of Us,” singing, smiling, and trying to crack each other up.
2) Ringo Starr and Paul share a piano and play a great, fast boogie-woogie number together.
3) George Harrison helps Ringo with the lyrics of “Octopus’s Garden” and plays it for the first time to producer George Martin. John eventually walks into the studio and joins them on drums.
5) George, Paul and Ringo play “I Me Mine” while John and Yoko waltz around the studio.
6) Paul’s daughter Heather sneaks up behind Ringo and hits a cymbal with a drumstick. Ringo reacts with a comical take that sends her into fits of giggles.
7) John Lennon muffs a lyric while singing “Don’t Let Me Down” on the Apple rooftop. He sings, “Gee gee ho-ho honey googy-doo.” Paul and Ringo laugh.
Maybe if the four of them had enjoyed more moments like these, the Beatles would have stayed together.
Now you are asking me, babies, “how can we see this intriguing, but unavailable, film?” As a public school teacher—and as a manly man and a member of the Illuminati (oops-- NEVER MIND)—I live by a strict moral code. But I have heard rumors that there are dozens of vendors on the Interwebs that will gladly sell you a copy of this film—one vendor even has it on Blu-ray!
There are vendors on a certain Internet auction site that will gladly sell you every minute recorded for the film between January 2nd, 1969 and January 31th, 1969, neatly organized onto 66—yes, sixty-six—CDs. There is also a shorter version available, popularly titled Thirty Days, that contains just the musical performances and omits all the between-song chitchat. That version runs a mere 17 CDs.
This is how we know that on January 10th, 1969, George Harrison quit the band. He informed the other three Beatles of his decision, went to lunch, and did not return to the studio. After he leaves, the Beatles discuss what to do next and John Lennon can be heard on the tape asking Paul and Ringo if they should “ring up Eric Clapton?” Why didn’t THAT make the official version of this documentary?
The ubiquity of these bootlegs makes me wonder what Apple thinks it is accomplishing by withholding Let It Be from the home video market. There were plans to rerelease a re-mastered version in 2003 to coincide with the release of the re-imagined album Let It Be… Naked, but the two surviving Beatles scotched that idea, saying they had no wish to reopen old wounds. Old wounds? The events shown in the film happened more than 45 years ago. We need this film to be available to the next generation of fans…. Guys, get over it.
Let Let It Be be.
If you would like to read my previous column on Help!, the Beatles’ second feature film, you can find it here.
If you would like to explore a display case I designed at my school to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arriving in America last year, you can find it here.
If you would like to hear the wonderful podcast we did on A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles’ first feature film, you can find it here.
If you would like to read about the sorts of things one notices when watching a beloved film like A Hard Day’s Night for the 185th or 186th time, you can find it here.
If you would like to take Doug’s delightful picture tour of A Hard Day’s Night locations, you can find it here.
Finally, if you haven’t tired completely of the lads from Liverpool—that is, if you are not some sort of miserable Beatle-phobe—read about another great Beatles documentary here.