Director of ‘Let It Be’ Insists It’s Not a ‘Breakup Movie’
There's been discussion in some quarters that The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson's three-part docuseries coming to Disney+ later this month, will usurp the original Let It Be film from which the footage hails. But, in fact, it may herald a reappraisal of the 1970 documentary.
In an exclusive conversation with UCR, Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg reveals that in the wake of Get Back, the Beatles' Apple Corps "will, in some form, re-release Let It Be. I don't know how yet — theatrically or if it will be streaming or some special edition, who knows. But I'm happy because people have been wanting to see it for years. I've been [wanting] to get it out for years and years and years, but there were many internal issues about [whether] it wasn't going to come out. So I'm looking forward, at some point, to Let It Be being released again."
Let It Be, released during May 1970 shortly after the album of the same name, documents recording sessions in London during January 1969. They were ostensibly rehearsals to work up new material for a television special or concert event, culminating in a short performance atop the roof of Apple's Saville Row headquarters. The film has long been tagged as a downer, chronicling the disintegration of the Beatles over personal and musical differences, including the departure of George Harrison for a few days during the process.
A December 2020 preview and the most recent trailer for Get Back telegraphed a lighter tone in Jackson's film, but Lindsay-Hogg — who was tapped for Let It Be after serving as a director of Britain's Ready Steady Go! and helming the videos for the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," "Rain," "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" — stands by what he did with Let It Be.
"I'm happy with the film I made," Lindsay-Hogg says. "As far as I'm concerned, I did it 50 years ago and went through all the ups and downs and made the movie that I thought was right for 50 years ago."
Lindsay-Hogg also notes that Jackson has more room to work with — six hours versus Let It Be's 89 minutes — and will be telling a more comprehensive story about the studio sessions during January 1969. He figures there's room for both movies to coexist and tell their separate but complementary stories.
"Peter's been very sympathetic to Let It Be," Lindsay-Hogg admits. "When we first met at the very beginning of 2020, before COVID really hit, he said, 'Tell me the story of Let It Be, how it happened. And I told him — I thought it was going to be a television special, then that didn't happen for a variety of reasons, then it suddenly turned into a documentary, and the [rooftop] concert happened because I thought we needed a finish. So as I was telling Peter this story, at the end he said, 'So if it weren't for you, Let It Be would really have been an orphan,' and I thought, 'What a wonderful word to describe all the varieties of ups and downs Let It Be has not only went through then but has been through for 50 years."
Lindsay-Hogg is also happy that the campaign around Let It Be — including new special reissues of the album and the Get Back coffee table book — has revised the long-held narrative about that month in Beatles history.
"It became kind of 'the breakup movie,' but they were not breaking up when we shot Let It Be," the director says, noting that the group went on to record Abbey Road after the Let It Be sessions. John Lennon told the others he was leaving the group during a band meeting on Sept. 20, 1969, but the Beatles' dissolution wasn't made fully public until Paul McCartney revealed the news before the April 1970 release of his first solo album.
"It's kind of like, 'Hey, wait a minute. If it was made in 1969, in January, and they didn't break up until April of 1970, why is this 'the breakup movie?'" Lindsay-Hogg says with a laugh. "They made another album after that, right? And then things started to unravel with them internally. So, no, this is not 'the breakup movie.' That's not what was happening. That's what people read into it because it came out after the real breakup."
Although he's seen some of what Jackson has planned for Get Back, Lindsay-Hogg is "excited" to see the final product, which premieres Nov. 25-27. He's particularly pleased that the series will include the complete 42-minute rooftop concert, during which the Beatles played nine takes of five Let It Be songs, joined by Billy Preston on keyboards and with a young Alan Parsons engineering.
"That day was wonderful — a little unnerving at the start, but wonderful," recalls Lindsay-Hogg, who came up with the rooftop idea after other scenarios — ranging from a return to the Cavern Club in Liverpool to an open field to an amphitheater in Libya — didn't pan out. "They said, 'Why?' And I said, 'We need some sort of conclusion to this movie.' And then Yoko piped up and said, 'Are conclusions important?' I said, 'Conclusions aren't always important, but in this case they are. Otherwise it's just going to be repetition of repetition of rehearsals — some jokes, some laughs, some improvisation but nowhere to get to.'"
Lindsay-Hogg says it took some prodding to get everyone to buy into the rooftop idea — "Finally John broke the silence and said, 'Fuck it. Let's do it'" — but the result speaks for itself. "Everyone was so happy," he says. "When I see it, as happens every so often, you can see how much pleasure and happiness the old rock 'n' roll group from Hamburg had playing together again. We didn't know they were going to break up. They didn't know they were going to break up. It was a singular event, and we pulled it off, and I'm really happy Peter's going to show the whole thing."