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The Beatles – Let It Be (Original 35mm Widescreen Theatre Print – Stereo Audio)
The filmed account of the Beatles’s attempt to recapture their old group spirit by making a back to basics album, which instead drove them further apart.
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg
Stars: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston
It was 45 years ago today (May 13th, 1970), that the Beatles’ final movie, Let It Be, received its U.S. premiere, in New York City theaters. The film, which was shot in January 1969, was originally intended to be a TV special called Get Back featuring the group rehearsing for their first live show in over two years. The early rehearsals captured the group, along with John Lennon’s soon-to-be wife Yoko Ono, clearly bored, with only Paul McCartney showing any real enthusiasm for the new material. The first part of the film shows the strain of the early morning sessions held in a cavernous soundstage at London’s Twickenham film studios.
Producer George Martin recalled in The Beatles Anthology that the Let It Be project held great promise in the beginning: “They were going through a very, very revolutionary period at that time. And they were trying to think of something new. They did actually come up with a very good idea, which I thought was well worth working on; The wanted to write an album completely and rehearse it and then perform it in front of a large audience — and for that to be a live album of new material. And we started rehearsing down at Twickenham film studios, and I went along with them.”
George Harrison, who was the least invested member of the band in regards to returning to the stage, recalled the band’s initial plan: “I think the original idea was to rehearse some new songs, and then we were going to pick a location and record the album of the songs in a concert. I suppose kinda like they do these days on Unplugged, except, y’know, it wasn’t to be unplugged. It was to do a live album.”
Among the songs featured in the film are “Let It Be,” “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “For You Blue,” “Octopus’ Garden,” “I Me Mine,” “Across The Universe,” and “The Long And Winding Road,” and covers of “Besame Mucho,” “Shake, Rattle And Roll,” and “Kansas City,” among many others.
In 1970 John Lennon recalled the nearly month-long film shoot saying: “It was just a dreadful, dreadful feeling being filmed all the time. I just wanted them to go away. And we’d be there at eight in the morning and you couldn’t make music at eight in the morning, or 10, or whatever it was . . . in a strange place with people filming you and colored lights.”
The tension between the group is palpable, especially during the sequence where Harrison and McCartney argue over Harrison’s playing on the song “Two Of Us.”
McCartney explained that unconsciously, the Beatles were actually telling the world that they were breaking up: “In fact what happened was when we got in there we showed how the breakup of a group works because we didn’t realize that we were actually breaking up, y’know as it was happening.”
The movie lightens up considerably during the second half, when the filming moved to the group’s new Apple basement studios, with the addition of keyboardist Billy Preston. A major highlight of the film is the final sequence, when the Beatles play in impromptu set on the Apple headquarters rooftop, featuring “Get Back,” “Dig A Pony,” “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “One After 909.” Filmed on January 30th, 1969, it would be the band’s final public performance.
Reviews for the film, which was released a month after the group’s breakup, were mixed, citing the sluggish and depressing nature of the film, as well as director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s sloppy editorial choices. But across the board, both critics and fans agreed on the power of the group’s triumphant rooftop set.
Author Ritchie Unterberger chronicled the prolonged Get Back/Let It Be sessions in his book, titled The Unreleased Beatles: “They had bitten off more than they could chew. Y’know, even before they assembled in January, the idea was, ‘Let’s get back to playing as a live band’ — pretty good idea. But then it was, ‘Let’s make it an album and a film, and we’re going to make the album a film of us doing a concert of songs we’ve never recorded before.’ It’s kind of like trying to do too much at once. And then you’re recording it — the comparison I made in the book is kind of Nixon’s ‘The Watergate Tapes,’ you have no idea that this stuff is going to comeback to haunt you forever.”]
Beatlefan magazine’s executive editor Al Sussman saw the film within days of its premiere and was left speechless by the group’s live swan song: “It was really depressing. But, what made it worthwhile was the rooftop, y’know? Because when I left that theater, I was this far off the ground. Despite the fact that we knew everything that happened afterward. Yeah, that saves the film.”
Ken Mansfield, the former U.S. manager of Apple Records was among the handful of insiders present at the rooftop concert that day. He recalled prior to the lunchtime gig walking in on the four Beatles who were using one of the Apple offices as a makeshift dressing room: “It was like walking in on a band, a nervous bunch of guys getting ready to do an audition. I don’t know if it’s because they hadn’t played together, or whether they were trying to put the set together, but it was one of those kind of tense things where they were nervous. When we locked the doors upstairs, and the minute they started playing — and y’know all the. . . everything that was going down, all the stuff. It’s like it all went away and I really believe in my mind that they forgot everything and they were what they were. They were the Beatles.”
Let It Be earned the Beatles their only Academy Award, when they won the 1970 Oscar for Best Original Song Score.
Information on this particular release:
Let It Be is a filmed documentary of the Beatles rehearsing and recording their new album in 1969. The film culminated with a concert by the group set on the rooftop on their own Apple office building in London’s west end. Paul McCartney’s concept for the album and film was that it wasn’t going to have studio trickery like overdubs and effects. It was “back to the roots” with the Beatles performing the songs in a natural way. The film and it’s accompanying soundtrack was delayed while the Beatles recorded and released their final album “Abbey Road”.
It was eventually released in 1970 and received an Academy Award for it’s title song.
For the Beatles completist and serious fans, the biggest frustration has been in not finding the “Beatles – Let It Be” in a complete, uncropped, great quality version. The reason for this is quite interesting. The original film was shot in 16mm (standard TV 4×3 format). However, when the film was released, they cropped the 16mm print by chopping off parts of the top and bottom and blew it up to 35mm widescreen. I myself wondered in the 70’s why the picture quality was so mediocre right in the movie theatre! Now we all know why. So even in the theatre, one did NOT get to see the full picture that was filmed.
Then to add insult to injury, when Let It Be was released in the 1980’s on Beta and VHS videotape and on Laserdisc (all in standard TV 4×3 format), the manufacturers did NOT go back to the original 16mm film that was shot in the same format. INSTEAD, they sourced it from the 35mm widescreen theatre print and CHOPPED it AGAIN!, this time from the sides. So anyone purchasing previous Beta, VHS and Laserdisc versions of Let It Be, now got to see even LESS!, since it has now been chopped on all 4 sides.
This recent WIDESCREEN, STEREO import Blu-Ray release rectifies a lot of the problems. For anyone that saw the film in the theatres in the 70’s, it is great now to be able to see the original theatrical release, in stereo AND in much improved quality, including clearer picture and more natural colours, the absolute best version you can find of this release.
Running Length: 80 minutes
Liner Notes for this copy: “This new transfer has been made from an original, undamaged, vhs (or videotape) recording of the BBC2 repeat from May 1982. Unusually, the Beeb screened the widescreen 35mm theatrical print with black bars at the top and bottom. When released on vhs and laserdics, this widescreen version was cropped severely at the sides to produce the full frame image. Here it is presented unaltered.
Although the film was shot at 24 frames per second, BBC2 aired it in PAL format at 25fps. For this disc it has been slowed down to 23.976 fps (my ripped copy says 29.97) and presented in a compatible NTSC format, this preserving the correct speed and pitch of the original. The actual picture has been scaled up to 480 pixels and encoded in anamorphic format so as not to lose any resolution”
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