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LET IT BE (2024 Re-Release)

Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

Runtime: 81 minutes.
Release Date: 05/08/24 [Disney+] 

"The filmed account of The Beatles' attempt to recapture their old group spirit by making a back to basics album, which instead drove them further apart."


Filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg opens the new, restored, re-released version of the 1970 Beatles documentary Let it Be by admitting that the film has had “a bumpy ride … for a variety of reasons.” 


Peter Jackson turned Lindsay-Hogg’s original footage into the 2021 documentary TV series The Beatles: Get Back for Disney+ by restoring the picture and sound, and recontextualizing the narrative over eight hours. The series was widely praised by both critics and fans. 


However, the original version of Let it Be received mixed reviews – and was panned by the band. George Harrison hated the film, Paul McCartney couldn’t watch it, and the oppressive tone reportedly made John Lennon cry. The film fell out of distribution for decades while other Beatles movies, like A Hard Day’s Night, received numerous releases, including enshrinement in the Criterion Collection. 


Lindsay-Hogg, in a new interview with Jackson that precedes the re-release, said Let it Be was conceived as a concert film that would have marked the band’s first live performance in several years. However, after 10 days of shooting what he thought would be background material, that concept was scrapped in favor of a documentary of the making of The Beatles’ fraught final record.


“I’m thinking, what am I going to do with this? How do I make sense? What’s the conclusion going to be? How do we resolve this particular episode in their lives?” he said, adding, “It really didn’t get a fair shake the first time.”


Watching the restored version of Let it Be, it’s easy to see why. The documentary mostly focuses on extended outtakes of The Beatles’ rehearsal sessions, with zero context. The prevailing general sense is aimlessness. 


Let it Be opens with a basic title card, and there’s no text – other than production credits – to offer the audience any clue as to what they’re watching.


There are some moments of looseness and levity. McCartney talks about a resurrected song (One After 909) that he and Lennon wrote when they were teenagers. The pair mostly seem comfortable and cordial around each other, often cracking jokes that derail song takes. Ringo Starr briefly joins McCartney on piano for a short and silly ad lib, but otherwise the drummer can mostly be seen staring off into space. 


Other times, you wonder what the editors were thinking. A loose take of “You Really Got a Hold on Me” sounds bad and goes nowhere. There are several other meandering takes of rock ‘n roll standards with Billy Preston on piano that are only notable … because Billy Preston is on piano. 


At one point McCartney says, “We’ve just gone ‘round for an hour with nothing in our heads … it’s not sounding together.”


Of the Fab Four, Harrison seems the most unhappy. He’s electrocuted by a bad ground in an early scene, and he and McCartney openly bicker.


Two-thirds of the way in, McCartney talks to Lennon about how disillusioned Harrison has become with the filming. And it’s hard not to agree with him. Paul describes the feeling of being filmed as “the hurdle of nervousness,” but the next two songs exclusively feature McCartney mugging and singing directly into the camera. 


Immediately afterwards, The Beatles take to the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters for what would, in fact, be their final public performance. Again, there’s no context as to how or why that came about.


Perhaps the strangest part of Let it Be is how iconic that closing footage is, and how listless the rest of the 81-minute documentary feels. 


The real highlight of the re-release are the audio and visual improvements made by Jackson. Other than the aspect ratio, scenes of The Beatles look like they could have been filmed today, and the audio is crisp and clear. Despite those enhancements, even the most diehard Beatles fan will likely struggle through the bulk of the film.


It’s hard not to compare Let it Be to Jackson’s Get Back. The latter has the benefit of more than quadruple the runtime — not to mention 50 years of hindsight — but Jackson’s editing choices are so much more cohesive, and interesting. There is levity and life in many of those scenes, and a brief introduction helps to contextualize what the audience is seeing and hearing.


It’s an odd choice, then, that Disney+ would bring back Let it Be when they already had a new and improved version, plus a standalone feature on the rooftop concert. In a perfect world, like the title suggests, perhaps the studio should have just let it be. 

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