Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Johnny Deadline: LET IT BE

 by JB

“So may I introduce to you...
The act you’ve known for all these years?”

In keeping with their current marketing strategy of waiting for every first-generation Beatles fan to die before releasing any more of “the good stuff,” Apple premiered the newly restored Let It Be documentary on Disney+ last Wednesday, 54 years after it first premiered in theaters, and 43 years since it was last available (legally) on home video.

We were first promised a restored Let It Be in 2003 to accompany the audio release of Let It Be Naked, a stripped-down version of the film’s soundtrack, shorn of the “Wall of Sound” overproduction laved upon it by original producer Phil Spector. The CD and vinyl record were duly released... but no film.

How come?
Rumor had it that Paul still had bad feelings about the film because it: 1) shows the band “warts and all,” 2) details the band breaking up, and 3) includes a particularly nasty argument between Paul and George that shows exactly how annoyingly passive-aggressive both of them could be. This is the famous scene that ends with George saying, “I’ll play whatever you want me to play... or I won’t play at all if you don't want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you... I'll do it.”


Remember, a few hours after that exchange, George quit the band, but was coaxed back a few days later. The original Let It Be film makes no mention of this tiny and insignificant detail.

Many casual fans are questioning why we even need the original Let It Be anymore when Peter Jackson’s 2021 Get Back—all seven hours and forty-eight minutes of it—is available to stream and on physical media. Well, Jackson deliberately avoided a lot of what is contained in Let It Be, so that the original documentary would not be rendered moot by his herculean undertaking. Because Jackson’s film uses the famous rooftop concert as a climax, for example, he ignored much of the footage from the next day, which is contained in Let It Be.

So there.
I have to admit that the hoopla and ballyhoo accompanying this grand rerelease is somewhat lost on me because I have owned a bootleg copy of the film on DVD for the last two decades. Visually, however, there is no comparison between this new version and my dark, dupe-y, grey market wonder, ripped from the dark, mis-framed, mis-cropped, 1981 Magnetic Video transfer. Peter Jackson’s team has restored Let It Be admirably (Did we expect any less?) and I daresay that the version currently running on Disney+ looks and sounds better than it did in any movie theater in 1970.

The sound, especially, is stunning. I’m hearing instruments and vocals that I literally could never hear before. Imagine hearing an old Beatles song FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Obviously, me being me, I have some quibbles. The original opening credits and original end credits are gone, though the song that accompanies the new end credits is new and heretofore unreleased. I miss the film starting with the old “United Artists—a Transamerica Company” animation. (This is a trend, apparently: when the Criterion Collection put out A Hard Day’s Night in 2014, they got rid of the opening “Walter Shenson Presents” title card.)

However, the omission on the new Let It Be that really left me scratching my head is the removal of the “barn door” transitions between the three major sections of the film. After the “Twickenham film studio” scenes that begin the film, Michael Lindsay-Hogg used this unique transitional device before starting the “Apple basement studio” scenes, and again before the famous “Rooftop Concert” scenes.

Though this device is considered a bit old fashioned, it served its purpose, guiding the audience from one location to the next. Perhaps removing these transition frames makes the film seem somehow more “hip” and avant-garde than it already was; without them, we viewers may feel that Lindsay-Hogg trusts us to intuit that we have switched locations. It makes a film that has always been loose and crazy and disjointed and “fly-on-the-wall” seem even more loose and crazy and disjointed and “fly-on-the-wall.”

Or... the reason for removing the barn door transitions could be simple: usually when restoring an older film, effects achieved in an optical printer degrade; it’s harder to keep the same picture quality during the effect. The more I think about that possibility, though, the more I discount it because of the miracles that Peter Jackson and his team have achieved with this footage. Restoring a wipe-like transition would seem to be child’s play to these folks. So... I wonder why they made this tiny change?

John Lennon’s original objections to the film—that it "portrayed Paul as God", and "showed the rest of us just hanging around like dopes,"—are clearly on display here. Paul is often photographed singing in close-up for minutes at a time. John, usually sitting on the floor, is not. There are brief cutaways to George and Ringo, but my God, the editing absolutely favors Paul. When Paul sings, Lindsay-Hogg shows Paul. When John or George sing, Lindsay-Hogg shows... Paul.
Perhaps because the other Beatles were pretty open in their disdain for the project, Lindsay-Hogg decided to focus on the one band member who seemed to actually want to be there? It’s clearly Paul’s band and Paul’s show from beginning to end.

Should you check out the restored version on Disney+? Yes! It is delightful. It is short. The Beatles play COOL TUNES on the ROOF. As I wrote way back in 2015:

“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.

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.

4) Paul sings 'Besame Mucho' in his best high-pitched, Perez Prado accent.

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. This is my favorite version of 'Don’t Let Me Down.' I call this version 'Gee Gee Ho-Ho Honey, Googy-Doo.'
Maybe if John, Paul, George, and Ringo had enjoyed more moments like these, the Beatles might have stayed together.”

Let It Be is currently streaming on Disney+. There are rumors of a physical media release later this year. Watch it quick... before Apple pulls it from the marketplace for another 43 years!

1 comment:

  1. OOOOOO..im soooo excited to see this!!!! I consider peter jacksons Get Back to be one of the greatest gifts to rock fandom of all time. I adore it immensely. Yet ive never seen Let It Be, the jumping off point for the doc. Beyond stoked at the remastered version dropping and shall watch post haste!!!!!!!

    Peace .n. Tunes