FLASHBACK: The Beatles' 'Let It Be' Premieres In New York City
It was 43 years ago today (May 13th, 1970), that the Beatles' final movie, Let It Be, received its U.S. premiere, in New York City theaters. The film, which was shot in January 1969, was originally intended to be a TV special called Get Back featuring the group rehearsing for their first live show in over two years. The early rehearsals captured the group, along with John Lennon's soon-to-be wife Yoko Ono, clearly bored, with only Paul McCartney showing any real enthusiasm for the new material. The first part of the film shows the strain of the early morning sessions held in a cavernous soundstage at London's Twickenham film studios.
Producer George Martin recalled in The Beatles Anthology that the Let It Be project held great promise in the beginning: "They were going through a very, very revolutionary period at that time. And they were trying to think of something new. They did actually come up with a very good idea, which I thought was well worth working on; The wanted to write an album completely and rehearse it and then perform it in front of a large audience -- and for that to be a live album of new material. And we started rehearsing down at Twickenham film studios, and I went along with them."
George Harrison, who was the least invested member of the band in regards to returning to the stage, recalled the band's initial plan: "I think the original idea was to rehearse some new songs, and then we were going to pick a location and record the album of the songs in a concert. I suppose kinda like they do these days on Unplugged, except, y'know, it wasn't to be unplugged. It was to do a live album."
Among the songs featured in the film are "Let It Be," "Get Back," "Don't Let Me Down," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "For You Blue," "Octopus' Garden," "I Me Mine," "Across The Universe," and "The Long And Winding Road," and covers of "Besame Mucho," "Shake, Rattle And Roll," and "Kansas City," among many others.
In 1970 John Lennon recalled the nearly month-long film shoot saying: "It was just a dreadful, dreadful feeling being filmed all the time. I just wanted them to go away. And we'd be there at eight in the morning and you couldn't make music at eight in the morning, or 10, or whatever it was . . . in a strange place with people filming you and colored lights."
The tension between the group is palpable, especially during the sequence where Harrison and McCartney argue over Harrison's playing on the song "Two Of Us."
McCartney explained that unconsciously, the Beatles were actually telling the world that they were breaking up: "In fact what happened was when we got in there we showed how the breakup of a group works because we didn't realize that we were actually breaking up, y'know as it was happening."
The movie lightens up considerably during the second half, when the filming moved to the group's new Apple basement studios, with the addition of keyboardist Billy Preston. A major highlight of the film is the final sequence, when the Beatles play in impromptu set on the Apple headquarters rooftop, featuring "Get Back," "Dig A Pony," "I've Got A Feeling," "Don't Let Me Down," and "One After 909." Filmed on January 30th, 1969, it would be the band's final public performance.
Reviews for the film, which was released a month after the group's breakup, were mixed, citing the sluggish and depressing nature of the film, as well as director Michael Lindsay-Hogg's sloppy editorial choices. But across the board, both critics and fans agreed on the power of the group's triumphant rooftop set.
Let It Be earned the Beatles their only Academy Award, when they won the 1970 Oscar for Best Original Song Score.
The film was briefly available on VHS in 1981, but is not yet available on DVD. Apple has supposedly been preparing a deluxe, multi-disc expanded edition culled from the 90 hours of footage shot during the sessions, but no release date has been announced.