Over the course of their existence, The Beatles appeared in five major motion pictures. Hailed as the most influential band of all time, the Fab Four took pioneering steps in music that, without them, contemporary culture would look and operate very differently. Part of this ground-breaking modus operandi arrived with their encroachment into the world of film. Of course, many musical stars had previously enjoyed successful forays into cinema, such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. However, the way The Beatles approached the concept of movies, much like the way they approached music, was revolutionary.
They cast off the overdone rags-to-riches narrative of films that musicians starred in and embarked on a surreal, humorous journey often marked with madcap plots, featuring cults, magicians and mad scientists. Looking back, the films have a nostalgic feel, one that, for those of us who weren’t there, is hard to pinpoint but speaks volumes of the appeal of those simpler times. The films of The Beatles bring up a whole host of emotions, and this was true for frontman John Lennon as well.
In the extensive classic interview that Lennon held with Jan S. Wenner in 1971, entitled Lennon Remembers, the maturer, softer side of Lennon is laid bare, providing another stark example to the tempestuous young man he once was. In his introduction to the interview, the Rolling Stone co-founder Wenner remembers talking extensively with Lennon over the phone in preparation for the interview, and that after it was completed, he finally met the era’s biggest rockstar.
Wenner recalled: “After many phone calls, we finally met in June 1970 when he and Yoko came up to San Francisco for a visit during the time they were… in Los Angeles,” he said, before continuing: “My wife, Jane, and I spent a weekend with them, showing them a little of San Francisco. The four of us went to see an empty afternoon theatre showing of Let It Be, the filmic record of the final disinterest/dissolution of The Beatles. After the show – moved at whatever levels, either as participants or deep fans – we somehow cried.”
The image of Wenner, his wife, and John and Yoko crying whilst watching the closing scenes of The Beatles final film, Let It Be, is a strange one. The thought of John Lennon sat in an empty theatre embodying the fly on the wall perspective that the film has is significant. Through Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s camera work Lennon was able to dive back into the final period of The Beatles, a fractious time that left an indelible imprint on each of the band’s members that none of them truly recovered from. This experience is a physical representation of Lennon being met with the very recent history that changed his life and sent him on a different path.
Wenner has also discussed the moment in further detail. In a 2020 article for his magazine, he recalled: “I don’t think anybody even really knew we were there”. He explained of the day: “It was empty, afternoon, and during a weekday so the four of us are sitting together in the middle of the theatre, watching this thing about the breakup of The Beatles.” In a candid recollection of events Wenner concludes: “I just remember walking out of the theatre and all of us in a foursome huddle, hugging, and the sadness of the occasion.”
This honest image of one of rock’s most iconic characters is strange, and it reflects the fact that the people we put on a pedestal as musicians, those who are raised to mythic status, are actually just human beings as well. The Beatles was the defining part of Lennon’s career, and it changed him in many ways, and some of the elements of this will probably never see the light of day owing to his tragic, premature death in 1980. It is understandable that he shed tears watching Let It Be, as it represented the book being closed on the most crucial part of his life. The Beatles took him from being a confused and broken young man and turned him into a mature, more worldly figure that had an impact on millions, something that is still felt today.
Furthermore, this was the first time that John and Yoko had seen the film. As with the other three Beatles members, none of them turned up to the premier or even notified the press or management that they wouldn’t be attending, owing to all the negative energy that abounded during this very final stage of their career. Fans were waiting eagerly to see the band, only to be met with a surreal and pathos tinged sight.
In a haphazard homage to the band’s long career, they were met with a host of characters who had long since left the show. John’s ex-wife Cynthia, Paul McCartney’s ex-girlfriend Jane Asher, and the director of A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Lester, were just some of the faces on the red carpet. This disappointment was the clearest example to the fans who were in denial that the end was nigh. The band never saw the film together, and it’s probably a good thing, given it was such a tearjerker.
Watch the trailer for Let It Be below.