The Beatles’ farewell documentary Let It Be is getting an encore, and a reinvention.
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson announced Wednesday that he is making a new film out of some 55 hours of footage — shot in January 1969 — that has never been seen by the public. The original movie, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, came out soon after the Beatles broke up in 1970 and has long been viewed as a chronicle of the band members growing apart. In a Rolling Stone interview given months after the film’s release, John Lennon recalled the making of Let It Be as a miserable experience, “set-up by Paul (McCartney) for Paul.
“That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can’t speak for George, but I pretty damn well know we got fed up of being side-men for Paul,” he said.
But Jackson says the additional footage tells a very different story.
“It’s simply an amazing historical treasure-trove,” he said. “Sure, there’s moments of drama — but none of the discord this project has long been associated with.”
For Jackson, the Beatles movie marks another turn to documentaries after his recent, They Shall Not Grow Old, a film that brings World War I to life after the director restored heavily-damaged, grainy footage, transferred it into 3-D and even used expert lip readers to restore lost dialogue.
He is working on Let It Be with the cooperation of McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison. The new project was announced on the 50th anniversary of one of the highlights of Let It Be, the Beatles’ spirited performance on the roof of Apple Records in London.
No release date has been set. A remastered version of the original film, which won an Oscar for best original score, also is planned.
In 1969, the movie was meant to show the Beatles turning away from the psychedelic tricks of “Sgt. Pepper” as they jam on new songs such as “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back.” But the Beatles seem far older and wearier than the joyous moptops of a few years earlier. Harrison briefly walked out during filming and on camera argues with McCartney over a proposed guitar part. Harrison would later blame tension with McCartney and unhappiness with Lennon’s then-new relationship with Ono, who is often by Lennon’s side in the movie.
“Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!'” he said in an interview for a 1990s video anthology of the Beatles.
“Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, in as much as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”
Let It Be didn’t come out until May 1970, and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner would speak of Lennon “crying his eyes out” when the two saw it together. Meanwhile, the accompanying album led to a bitter dispute between McCartney and his bandmates. The group had pushed aside longtime producer George Martin and brought in Phil Spector, who infuriated McCartney by adding strings and a choir to the ballad “The Long and Winding Road.” In 2003, McCartney oversaw a new and sparer version of the album, “Let It Be … Naked.”
Last fall, McCartney hinted at the upcoming revision of the film.
“I know people have been looking at the (unreleased) footage,” he said in an interview aired on Canada’s Radio X. “And someone was talking to me the other day and said: ‘The overall feeling is very joyous and very uplifting. It’s like a bunch of guys making music and enjoying it.'”