Restored Beatles film "Let It Be" to start streaming on Disney+ tomorrow

In May of 1970, the film "Let It Be," a documentary about the Beatles in January 1969 rehearsing, playing, recording, clowning around, and ultimately playing an unauthorized concert on the rooftop of their Apple headquarters, was released.

Between the film's 1969 shooting and the its 1970 release, the Beatles had broken up, and that sad event certainly colored critical reaction to the movie. The Wikipedia synopsis of the critical reaction at the time of its release:

[The Sunday Telegraph] lamented that "Watching an institution such as the Beatles in their film Let It Be is rather like watching the Albert Hall being dismantled into a block of National Coal Board offices", while Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker deemed it "a very bad film and a touching one … about the breaking apart of this reassuring, geometrically perfect, once apparently ageless family of siblings."

The Beatles themselves cast a negative view on the movie, as it must have represented to them the breakup of their band. The film's director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg said that George Harrison disliked the movie because "it represented a time in his life when he was unhappy … It was a time when he very much was trying to get out from under the thumb of Lennon–McCartney." Jann Wenner said that Lennon cried watching the film in a theater. Paul McCartney said in 2007 that he could not bear to watch the film. Ringo Starr said of the film: "Not a lot of joy in it."

And the conventional wisdom is that 1970's "Let It Be" is a deliberately dreary cut of the sessions to emphasize the Beatles breaking up, while the Peter Jackson 2021 documentary "Get Back," presenting hours of unused footage from the "Let It Be" shoot, shows the full picture of these sessions, with joy, laughter, camaraderie, and love that even the Beatles had forgotten.

I once watched a bootleg copy of "Let It Be" on YouTube, and I recall that my viewing confirmed this assessment.

I was invited to attend an advance screening last week of the newly restored "Let It Be," streaming on Disney+ starting May 8, and I was shocked that not only is the sound and picture now more beautiful and bright, thanks to Peter Jackson's technical team's restoration, but the movie itself is more beautiful and bright than the collective memory of it.

Ninety-nine percent of the movie just shows the Beatles rehearsing new songs, fooling around playing old songs, smiling at each other while playing, laughing at jokes, helping each other write and play. There were only two scenes that showed any discord: Paul and George sparring a bit over Paul's direction of how George should play; and Paul expressing to John disappointment in George's disinterest in playing live.

George Harrison walked out of the sessions and briefly quit the band while the cameras were rolling, but that was not even included in the 80-minute "Let It Be." It was included in "Get Back," but at a runtime of nearly eight hours, it was put in the proper context of the overall harmony of the sessions. As were clandestinely recorded audio tapes of Paul and John at lunch discussing disagreements, the sound quality of which was too muddled to be used in "Let It Be," but was improved with advanced audio technology and used in "Get Back."

So it's great that this new "Let It Be" allows for not only a sound/picture restoration, but also a reassessment of its content. It seems its reputation had been darkened for decades by the circumstances of its original release.

At the screening, Lindsay-Hogg explained that he had originally signed on to film a documentary about a yet-to-be-planned spectacular Beatles concert. He came to film the rehearsal and recording sessions only for use in a planned trailer for the finished concert film. It was only after it became clear that the Beatles could not agree on this concert (Harrison had no interest in it at all), that Lindsay-Hogg realized that the rehearsal and recording sessions were the movie, and they improvised the rooftop concert as some kind of "conclusion" for the film.

I really enjoyed "Let It Be" as a great and entertaining movie, and I'm glad Lindsay-Hogg's work will get an opportunity at reassessment. He did an amazing job with a project that radically changed mid-shoot, and within the 80-minute format that he needed to work within. (That was the only format that existed at the time.)

But I'm a huge fan of "Get Back," which used the luxury of a four-part streaming series and an eight-hour runtime to yield not only a comprehensive fly-on-the-wall opportunity to witness this great band at work and at the height of their powers, but also the best work about a collaborative artistic process that I've ever seen.

So I think Lindsay-Hogg is owed our congratulations and gratitude not only for "Let It Be," but also for exhaustively and creatively shooting all those hours of footage in the studios, and from every possible angle for the rooftop concert (cameras positioned on other rooftops, above the band, in the crowd below, and hidden cameras to film the police in the lobby) that became "Get Back."

Previously: The Beatles` `Let it be` is 52 years old