03 February, 2019

LET IT BE - The Beatles (1970)

It was supposed to be a rebirth. It turned out to be the death throes.

With the news that Peter Jackson will be ploughing through the 96 hours of film shot for an album and documentary originally to be titled Get Back, I thought I’d take another look at the original. The film has never had an officially sanctioned DVD release but there is a version of the original cut issued by United Artists available if you look hard enough.

It is both fascinating and depressing. Paul’s idea was for the band to get back to the ways they used to make music – recording live, no overdubs – and film the whole process. What becomes evident even without the history we know, is that John and George have accepted that the group has all but broken up; Paul is in denial, desperately trying to hold things together; and Ringo is just dutifully coming to work.

The film is basically split into three acts: the Twickenham sessions, the Apple sessions, and the rooftop performance.

It’s immediately evident that attempting to make a record in a film studio was a mistake. The most notable section is the argument between Paul and George. The music is terrible. The environment of the film studio was so cold (both figuratively and literally) that the sessions were abandoned. Recording shifted to the Apple offices in Savile Row resulting in a noticeable improvement in mood. The presence of Billy Preston at these sessions seems to help them keep on track, and it’s here that they actually complete some takes.

Naturally, it’s the rooftop session that is the highlight – arguably the first ever guerrilla gig. Even though they had several weeks of rehearsals under their belts by then, we get the impression that having an audience – even of passers-by – forces them to behave themselves and put in a decent performance. It’s a rightly legendary show, but will give nightmares to anyone brought up with a 21st century understanding of health and safety.

Even though it’s obvious the four of them have completely drifted apart, when they’re playing they still give their all. It also reveals how underrated John Lennon is as a musician. He plays sensitive bass on The Long and Winding Road and Let It Be (despite his distaste for the latter), some blistering slide blues on For You Blue, and one of the most recognisable guitar solos in history on Get Back. It’s worth remembering that none of these were his songs.

Both the film and album were shelved, and only released to satisfy contractual obligations. The film does deserve credit for its honesty. None of the Beatles come out looking particularly good but it’s Paul who comes out worst. In fairness, his domineering is clearly an attempt to give the band direction and delay the inevitable breakup, but it’s not hard to see why none of the Beatles were keen on having the film reissued in any way. One hopes the new edit will not be a whitewash.

The transfer on this version is abysmal so Peter Jackson’s cut will probably be worth the wait if only for picture quality, providing he doesn’t CGI it all into a flaming island castle.

Highlight: The rooftop session
Feature: * * ½
Extras: None
Audio: Dolby mono

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