The Beatles’ Let It Be Finally Gets a Re-Release, and Shines On Its Own Merits

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The post The Beatles’ Let It Be Finally Gets a Re-Release, and Shines On Its Own Merits appeared first on Consequence.

It’s strange to watch a movie for the first time and feel like you’ve already seen it. Though it’s natural that Let It Be, the 1970 Beatles documentary by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, should feel familiar to modern audiences: Not just because the moment it chronicles was an iconic one for the band, but because the raw footage from which it was made was also the foundation for Peter Jackson‘s nearly-eight-hour-long Disney+ series Get Back (otherwise known as the thing your family spent all of Thanksgiving 2021 watching).

Until its debut this week on Disney+, Let It Be has never been available for streaming, and was never even released officially on DVD — its 1981 VHS/Betamax/LaserDisc release was, until now, the only time it was been legally available for audiences at home. Yet, now that it’s been beautifully restored by Jackson’s Park Road Post Production, it’s possible to appreciate it both in direct connection with Get Back, and as a film in its own right.

Get Back used its epic-length runtime and groundbreaking technology to really mine over 55 hours of footage for drama. By contrast, Let It Be comes in at a tight 80 minutes, leaving most moments of conflict on the cutting room floor; its goal is to deliver a portrait of artists at work, the platonic ideal of brevity in comparison to Jackson’s maximalist approach.

Let It Be starts so simply: An empty room, slowly filling with recording equipment and instruments, followed by bearded Paul McCartney tickling the ivories. From there, things escalate to The Beatles in full swing. There’s zero context for who most of the people are in that room, which isn’t perhaps a great example of documentary filmmaking — this is not a complete document. However, inserting any real context would burst the bubble of intimacy created by Lindsay-Hogg’s free-wheeling cameras, the ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience.

When Get Back was released, much was made of the surprising revelations buried in the original footage, most notably including George Harrison quitting the band at one point. Harrison’s departure is edited out of Let It Be — while Lindsay-Hogg’s choice of footage does feature some tension between the bandmates, the movie otherwise seems happiest to catch the guys in moments of play.

There’s McCartney messing around with “Bésame Mucho,” Ringo Starr and Harrison noodling on “Octopus’s Garden,” John Lennon and Yoko Ono waltzing about the studio, and so many other moments. The presence of six-year-old Heather McCartney brings with it such charm, as well, and we get so much just from the brief snippets of them working through specific songs, calling out chords as they play: “D, D, B to B minor, D de.” These are four men communicating with each other in the one language they know how to speak together: music.

It all culminates in the famous rooftop concert sequence, which takes up a good 20 minutes of the film — a significant percentage, and an almost out-of-nowhere left turn from the film’s studio sessions. There’s no real segue for the change in location, yet when you see the sequence in action, complete with man-on-the-street commentary (“bit of an imposition to disrupt all the business in this area,” says one passerby, while a young woman notes that “it livens up the office hours anyway”), you see how transcendent a moment it must have truly been for the band; a farewell some fans still haven’t gotten over.

Watching Let It Be in the shadow of Get Back is fascinating because if nothing else, it provides an intimate understanding of how significant the editing process is to a documentary like this. The most powerful element of Get Back — the opportunity to watch band members craft some of The Beatles’ most beloved final tunes — is still present in Let It Be. The difference is that while Get Back thoroughly embeds us in the act of creation, Let It Be keeps those moments tight, splitting the difference between the nitty-gritty of sorting out lyric choices and key changes with the miracle of a great song, coming to life right in front of our eyes. It’s not dismissive of that hard work, but it doesn’t have time to dwell.

For decades, Let It Be has been more than just a film — it represents a contentious turning point in Beatles history as well as a wistful snapshot of an iconic band’s final days, not to mention a prime example of how The Beatles were mythologized in real-time, like no other band before or since.

In the press release announcing the rerelease, Jackson said that “I’ve always thought that Let It Be is needed to complete the Get Back story…. I now think of it all as one epic story, finally completed after five decades. The two projects support and enhance each other: Let It Be is the climax of Get Back, while Get Back provides a vital missing context for Let It Be.”

That’s certainly one way to look at these two projects, now forever entwined. Now that it’s actually possible to watch Let It Be, though, the real difference between them becomes clear: Get Back is the history. Let It Be is a poem.

Let It Be begins streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, May 8th.

The Beatles’ Let It Be Finally Gets a Re-Release, and Shines On Its Own Merits
Liz Shannon Miller

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