It is sad that this film is being left to languish in a vault somewhere – well, maybe not a vault. Vault just sounds better and underscores the crime that this film is out of print. Some of the remastered film found its way into the excellent Beatles Anthology documentary that aired in the early 1990s. The copies that are circulating are of pretty good quality from what is available to transfer to digital media (though they have had their aspect ratio reduced to 4:3 – the size suitable for a T.V. screen), but nothing would be like a complete widescreen re-mastering of this film, with an extra disc of outtakes. It is what is in the film and those outtakes, most of which I have seen, that is holding the release up.
The issue is with the dynamics within the band at that time. The remaining two Beatles have blocked attempted releases on DVD, as they feel it does not represent them well as a band. Yet this is exactly what is so interesting about the Beatles at this time. The other Beatles’ films, Hard Days Night, Help, Magical Mystery Tour and to a lesser extent, Yellow Submarine (as actors did all the voices) show the Beatles as real life cartoon characters, stumbling through one ridiculous scenario after another. Let it Be offers us the chance to see what being in the Beatles was really like after ten years together…and guess what, they are human beings. They got tired of each other, they wanted to grow as people and Yoko ruined everything. This is exactly why this film needs a re-release, not to perpetuate the myth of this band by making us all feel robbed that it came to an end, but to put the final nail in the coffin by seeing that it had to.
Let it Be is a compelling look behind the scenes at a band who defined an era and are about to call it quits. Yes, there is some tension in the film, but even that is mild. It is really nothing that upsetting or embarrassing. Most of us have had far worse nights down at the pub. The most uncomfortable scene in the official release is Paul and George arguing, but never raising their voices, about a guitar part on the song Two of Us. Though Paul was probably right in the end, as George was perhaps wanting to solo a bit too much on too many songs (can you imagine if he got his way and soloed all the way through Hey Jude?). Still, I wish that George had cracked at least one Rickenbacker across Paul’s back – probably would have kept the band together a bit longer. George did actually quit the band briefly during filming, but thankfully they were able to reconcile. The change of venue in the second half of the film from the rather oppressive Twickenham Film Studios to Apple headquarters on Savile Row in London, and the sudden inclusion of Billy Preston on keyboards, seemed to change the overall tone of the film. Everything seems a lot lighter and the music is sounding noticeably better.
The worst thing about Let it Be, other than being the Beatles final document, is that one can see the beginning of the end for Paul. All the schmaltz is starting to ooze out in an unstoppable flow on songs like The Long and Winding Road. The song itself isn’t bad, it is just a blueprint for where Paul would go in later years…The Long and Winding Road of Sentimental Drivel. Yoko hanging around is also annoying. She alone would have made me quit. I mean, she shows up and starts actually telling other members of the band what to do and that they should listen to John. Did she forget it is the FUCKING Beatles she is talking to? Any normal person would have just sat there in respectful awe. There would be plenty of time for her and John to share their musical ideas, and genitalia, with an unsuspecting and unreceptive audience on their own time. The fact that they made three albums of truly unlistenable noise shows how completely obtuse they became about their combined musical abilities when in each others company. But I am not here to trash Yoko, I’ll wait for a documentary on her life to do that. Yoko’s presence also made me lose a bit (lot) of respect for John, as the other band members did not share his feelings about her. The whole, “I love her and she is my artistic equal” has nothing to do with the rest of the band and it was wrong to foist it on them. I don’t think the other Beatles disliked her outright (though I have my suspicions about George), but they certainly weren’t obsessed with her like John was. One can tell by the expressions on their faces that they are being patient with her, though there is a hint of disbelief at times.
The concert at the end of the film is really what it is all about. It is the best live Beatles footage, period. No screaming fans and no movie making flourishes…just the Beatles playing their new stripped down music live. It is fascinating to watch how fluidly and effortlessly they tear through this unfortunately short set of songs. They really were amazing musicians. It is hard to believe that such a rich and complex sound is coming from just the four of them (with occasional keyboards by the still present, tasteful, quiet and fully clothed, Billy Preston). Equally fantastic is the scene on the street of the austere British businessmen having their lunch hour interrupted – “this just won’t stand..such an imposition.” A great moment of opportunistic filming catches a bowler hatted gentleman, looking like one of the caricatures from Yellow Submarine (the ones’ dropping apples on peoples’ heads), climbing around on the roof, up and down ladders, pipe in mouth, for a better look at the proceedings. His body language suggests bemused disapproval – “what’s all this then?”
Unfortunately, all to soon, the police show up to put an end to it, and in a strange way, to the Beatles. Sadly, this was really it for the Beatles in the public eye. They still had one more album in them, the definitive Abbey Road, but this is the last time they would ever perform live. This alone is why this film needs its proper due. I think if Ringo is the last man standing it will happen, I have a strange faith in him.