Does the world really need to spend any more time thinking about or examining the Beatles? Nobody- no matter how good or influential they may have been- really deserves so much scrutiny or attention. There are other bands out there; the myth-making has long run its course, and the cash-extraction that continues every 5-10 years by ramming some new Beatle twist down our throats is pretty tiring.
And yet, if only to set the historical record straight, we bring you the infamously long-out-of-print documentary, Let It Be. The narrative goes like this: the Fab Four were basically sick of each other by this point, so they booked some sessions with the idea of churning out a concert at the end of it, and brought in a film crew to capture it all. Tension was everywhere, the whole thing ended up a bust, and then Phil Spector came by much later to save it (or ruin it, depending on your point of view.) Let It Be The TV special, supposedly, is a testament to that tension, and it wasn’t until the great Peter Jackson waded through the footage to give us his 8-hour Get Back epic that we finally got to see the “real” Beatles in action. See, they really were geniuses, and, look- they didn’t hate each other as much as we thought! Who knew?
Actually, we all knew- or should have known, if we had just bothered to watch Let It Be with an unbiased set of eyes. Watching the original 80-minute special now, it’s amazing to see that everything critics are raving about in Peter Jackson’s version is alive and well here. There are plenty of sweet, wonderful moments where the band is jamming on fun, old-time rock n’ roll with big, goofy grins on their faces. It’s a trick McCartney has fallen back on several times in his career: when the going gets tough, jam on Chuck Berry. That tactic gave us his Russian album in the 80’s and his 90’s album Run, Devil, Run (his first post-Linda record) full of fun, chase-the-blues-away rock n’ roll.
Here, the tactic allows the band to just have fun in their sandbox and not think about coming up with a post-Sgt. Pepper masterpiece. What’s more, despite sharing the same footage, Let It Be is crafted much more expertly than Get Back, whose modern editors can’t help but cram in as many sound bites and angles as possible into those eight hours. Ironically, despite it’s much shorter running time, it’s the slower-paced Let It Be that allows the space we need as viewers to really get immersed in the band’s interplay. Get Back, by contrast, just keeps moving in fast forward as if Jackson couldn’t decide what part of the 21 day session should be trimmed, so he decided to squeeze it all into a three-episode series.
While there is a lot missing in Let It Be (the now-famous McCartney “Get Back” segment, for one) it’s ultimately a lot more satisfying as a fly-on-the-wall document of a special moment in time than Get Back. What’s more, let the record show how little Let It Be resembles the film we were told it is: missing are the bickering, the tense moments, everything we’ve been told that led to the destruction of this famous group. It’s true that Yoko follows Lennon around like a bizarre chaperone holding a short leash, though no one seems to care. On the other hand, one of the sweetest moments is watching the couple waltz to Harrison’s gorgeous “I Me Mine” as everyone smiles and plays on.
There are, in fact, a lot of smiles in this film, and a lot of family: Ringo goofing around with Linda’s daughter, Heather as if she’s Paul’s own (he did, in fact, adopt her later when they married.) Of course, the magic of editing hides all the warts that need to be hidden, and there’s no doubt that what we’re treated to is not the full picture. But it’s definitely not the film we were told it was, either. It is, instead, everything critics are saying about Jackson’s Get Back, half a century too late.
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