From the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense to the Band’s The Last Waltz, famously directed by Martin Scorsese, a great concert film is a collaboration between filmmaker and performer, capturing the very essence of a musician whilst putting the audience in a front-row seat. Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 film Let it Be strives to achieve this same tone, giving unprecedented access to the four members of The Beatles, though this is a far more private affair, allowing audiences to peek behind the curtain and experience the underbelly of the distinguished band.
Capturing the eclectic spirit of The Beatles in a short musical documentary is no easy feat, though in the collection of over 50 hours of rehearsal footage, Michael Lindsay-Hogg does a good job in revealing the subtle intricacies of each band member. Documenting the group’s rehearsal and recording for their twelfth studio album Let It Be in 1969, the film concludes with the band’s final public performance together, a roof-top performance above their Apple Corps headquarters.
Originally planned as a television documentary, the observational film joins the band as a fly-on-the-wall of their rehearsal room, providing valuable insight into the quietly volatile relationship of the band members. Although Lindsay-Hogg does well to focus on the band’s fervent synergy, subtle glares and one particular disagreement between Paul McCartney and George Harrison suggest buried tensions. Criticising Harrison’s guitar part on the album’s first song ‘Two of Us’, McCartney says: “I always hear myself annoying you”, to which Harrison later responds: “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 would please you I’ll do it.”
It certainly suggests a growing power struggle between Harrison and the perceived band leaders Paul McCartney and John Lennon, with Linsay-Hogg stating in 2003 that Harrison disliked the film as “it represented a time in his life when he was unhappy,” he said, before adding: “It was a time when he very much was trying to get out from under the thumb of Lennon–McCartney.” Despite this, these subtle moments are not dwelled on, with the film largely embracing such extraordinary access to provide the viewer with moments of true captivating collaboration, revealing the particular endearing charm the Beatles were famous for. Such reaches near-dreamlike allure when John Lennon and Yoko Ono waltz around the rehearsal room to the tune of Paul McCartney’s ‘I Me Mine’ in what might be the documentary’s most revealing moment.
These moments are rife among the “55 hours of never-before-seen footage and 140 hours of audio” that Peter Jackson reportedly has at his disposal for 2021’s release of The Beatles: Get Back, a re-edit of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original film. Jackson’s film will attempt to provide new, positive light on the recording of the Beatles’ final studio album, focusing on the band’s harmonious comradery, as opposed to its imminent collapse. Commenting on the discovery of the newfound footage, drummer Ringo Starr states: “I’m looking with Peter Jackson at all the footage that was never used, and prior to us doing that we’re all hanging out, there’s a lot of fun, a lot of humour, not like the film that came out.”
Occasional rays of sunshine break out from behind the closing curtains of The Beatles’ reign in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary, though this is somewhat of a melancholy ‘last hurrah’ for the band, already in turbulent territory. It’s a smart, short insight into the inner workings of the influential band, with missed opportunities toward a deeper understanding of the operation of the quartet. Perhaps Peter Jackson can extract a more profound truth…
Watch the full film, below.