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Rethinking the bitter end of the Beatles

Let It Be

Music documentary featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Billy Preston. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Streaming on Disney Plus beginning May 8. 81 minutes. STC

⭐️⭐️⭐️½ (out of 4)

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“Let It Be” is a 1970 music documentary about the Beatles, the most celebrated group in pop history. It’s also one of cinema’s most misunderstood and hard-to-find films.

This latter situation is about to change with the restored film’s streaming release on Disney Plus after years of being shelved in the band’s Apple Corps vaults. Which means it’s time to look at it again to see what a half century’s worth of context and reconsideration might bring.

“It really didn’t get a fair shake the first time,” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg says in a new intro. “But I think one of the things which excites me about ‘Let It Be’ coming out again, is that finally it’s going to get a chance to be embraced for the curious and fascinating character that it is, I think.”

Filmed in January 1969 during the rocky recording sessions for the band’s “Let It Be” album, the Beatles’ fifth and final movie debuted on May 13, 1970, in New York. The world premiere was just over a month after Paul McCartney publicly announced his departure from the group, although John Lennon had secretly quit months earlier and George Harrison and Ringo Starr had staged brief walkouts.

None of the Fab Four attended the “Let It Be” premiere. It was a far cry from six years earlier when the quartet’s presence at the London launch of “A Hard Day’s Night,” their first film, required a mob of police officers and ambulance personnel to handle thousands of overexcited fans.

“Let It Be” was immediately tagged as “the Beatle’s break-up movie,” a label that was as understandable as it was inaccurate. The band didn’t dissolve during its making and in fact went on later in 1969 to record and release its penultimate album, “Abbey Road,” which many fans consider the group’s best.

Originally titled “Get Back,” the “Let It Be” film (and album of the same name, also released in 1970) was an ambitious attempt by the Beatles to create and perform new music before the inquiring lens of Lindsay-Hogg, who had directed several of their music videos.

The film was meant to be aspirational, not funereal. Yet that didn’t come through thanks to its shrugged-off title, grainy 16 mm images, murky sound, ragged cinéma vérité editing and a tense scene of Paul and George bickering over the guitar parts on “Two of Us,” one of many tunes the band was working on.



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