When A Hard Day’s Night was first released everyone was expecting the English pop groups’ version of an Elvis movie, It Happened at the British Open or something as nonsensical as that. Just have John Lennon and Paul McCartney pump out a half a dozen or so new songs, create a soundtrack, release the album and sell millions for United Artists. The studio was just looking to cash in on the music quickly before the fad of Beatlemania would fade from the memory of teenagers around the world. In February 1964, The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show where more than 60 million viewers watched. The time was ripe for a film, but it had to be made quick and cheap, United Artists, not wanting to spring for any extra dollars. What producer, Walter Shenson, got along with the studio, the music critics and the public, instead was a surprisingly energetic, pulsating, witty, frenetic, somewhat fictional day in the life that film critic Andrew Sarris, in his original Village Voice review, called “the Citizen Kane of juke-box musicals.” Continue reading
“Let It Be” is a glorious mess, with little continuity, poor editing, a lack of direction and at times poor sound quality. You also get to see the most influential group in Rock and Roll history argue, mock each other, play poorly at times, look bored (Ringo) and watch a curious shadowy Yoko Ono cling to John Lennon throughout. Despite all this, there are ample things to enjoy, primarily the opportunity to watch this celebrated band rehearse and create their work in the studio and a now legendary rooftop concert.
Even with all the in fighting and hard feelings that were rising to the surface, they could still have fun and play well, as they do, from the top of the Apple Building, which turned out to be the final time John, Paul, George and Ringo ever performed together. The film is not for the casual fan who will probably find it somewhat boring at times and skip over directly to the concert. On the other hand, serious Beatles and Rock and Roll fans will find the film a fascinating look at the most celebrated band ever in the final stages of their career. As previously pointed out, the film is technically bad, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg should never be allowed behind a camera again. There were hours and hours of film shot and it seems no one knew how to put all this footage together. Except for an occasionally nice cut here and there, the film looks like it was chopped with a cleaver by a character from the Sopranos. While the sound of the music is crisp and loud, much of the dialogue between the fab four is hard to hear and at times unclear, forcing you to raise the volume on your TV. This is especially noticeable during the now well known “tutoring” Paul gave to George on how to play the guitar in which George, fed up finally said, and I am paraphrasing here a bit, “I’ll play anyway you want me too or I don’t have to play at all.” George apparently walked out and quite the group at this point (this is not noted in the film) and there was talk of replacing him with Eric Clapton. George did return and Billy Preston was brought into the sessions to help ease the tension. Poor George also became the brunt of some mocking by John, when during a rehearsal of George’s song “I Me Mine”, John began to dance a waltz with Yoko. John, off camera, sarcastically had told George as he listened to the slower portion of the song “We’re a Rock and Roll band!”
It’s not all bad; there is plenty in the film to savor. Ringo and George rehearsing “Octopus’ Garden” with Ringo on piano and eventually John joining in on drums. We see the group singing tidbits of songs never completed like “Suzy Parker.” While warming up the band would jump into bits and pieces of oldies like “Rip it Up”, “Shake Rattle and Roll”, “Kansas City” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” segueing from one to the other. You get a look at their creative process as you watch Paul and John work out specific cords Paul wanted for his song, “I Got a Feeling.” There is as he Paul reminisces to someone off camera about the early days, how he and John would write songs in his family’s living room, mostly pretty bad stuff, but some that were eventually used liked “Love Me Do.” He talked how they both hated the words to “One After 909” and in one of the more inspired edited moments, we quickly cut to the band in the studio doing a blazing version of the song, one much better than the official released version on the “Let It Be” album.
The original concept was to do a TV special with a concert performance at the end. The TV idea was scraped and a feature film was now planned, which would fulfill their three-picture deal with United Artists. Still, they discussed doing a live performance somewhere, Paul and John were for it, George, never wanted to perform live again. Paul liked the idea of performing in a small venue; John suggested somewhere more exotic, Africa. They were unable to come up with an idea all could agree on. According to the book “The Beatles: An Oral History” by David Prichard and Alan Lysasht, engineer/producer Glyn Johns came up with the idea of doing a concert on the roof of the Apple Building. A competing version of the story comes from Tony Branwell in his book “Magical Mystery Tours: My Life with The Beatles” where he states it was Paul who came up with the idea for the concert on the roof. Whatever the truth may be, all four members of the group liked the off beat idea of playing to all of the West End of London.
However disjointed the rest of the film may be the final twenty minutes is pure magic. The concert actually lasted about forty five minutes before the police pulled the proverbial plug. They played only seven songs, short versions of “God Save the Queen” and “She’s So Heavy” were edited out along with multiple versions of “Don’t Let Me Down”, “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back.” They also performed “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.” Intercut with the performances, the filmmakers showed the bewildered crowds down below as the music began to play.
It was a chilly and windy day in London, hair is blowing and jackets are worn. The group begins to play.
#1 – Get Back – The group kicks off with a rocking version of “Get Back.” Down on the street we see passerby’s looking up bewildered, wondering what is going on? Can it be The Beatles are performing live up on the roof?
#2 – Don’t Let Me Down – As John wails out this tune, young men are now climbing up to the rooftops of adjacent buildings to get a better view. The crowd on the street is beginning to grow.
#3 – I’ve Got a Feeling – By the end of this song the crowds have increased. The police make their first appearance trying to control the crowds and keep auto traffic moving. Not everyone on the street is happy with this free concert. One middle-aged woman complained that, “it made no sense.” A businessman, stated, “the music was alright in its place….it’s a bit of an imposition to interrupt the business area in this way.” On the other side of the generation gap, one young lady thought it was “fantastic” and another simply said, “it was great.”
#4 – One After 909 – With this song one has to wonder how prophetic the boys were being here playing one of the earliest songs they ever wrote and now it was one of the last they would ever perform together.
#5 – Dig A Pony – The police presence was gathering, stern faces looking very concerned moving among the crowd. They were getting ready to make their move. Two police officers are seen knocking on the front door of Apple and are let in. They soon make their way upstairs.
#6 – Get Back – The police are on the rooftop talking to a Beatles associate. John and George turn and notice the two officers however continue playing. As the song comes toward it close, Paul changes the words, singing, “Get Back Loretta, you’ve been playing on the roof again, and that’s no good. Momma doesn’t like it and she’s gonna get you arrested.”
As the band puts their instruments down, John who always had the witty last word said, “On behalf of the group and ourselves, I hope we passed the audition.”
With that, The Beatles as a group never performed again.
“Let It Be” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and a Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture. Watching the concert part of the movie puts to rest any thoughts anyone may have that The Beatles could no longer perform well as a live four piece Rock and Roll band. The film remains criminally unreleased on DVD. Legally, only VHS and laser disc copies of the film are available and both are scarce. Bootleg copies abound, some claiming to be official releases, and the internet is filled with clips from the film. Still why isn’t this film and the multitude of outtakes available? What a great 2-disc package this would be. In 2007, the film was being remastered with plans for an eventual release on DVD, however for reasons unknown the process was stopped and the film remains a rare treasure.
Attached here is a interview with director Michael Lindsay-Hogg from 2003 on releasing a DVD of “Let It Be.”