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Film / Let It Be

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The last concert The Beatles ever held, right here.

"I'd like to say 'Thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we've passed the audition."

Let It Be is a 1970 Rockumentary directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. The last film The Beatles made before their break-up, it covers what was supposed to be the making of an album and the concert that followed.

This didn't work out well because different Beatles had different ideas about what should be done with the project and how it should be done. The personal relationships between the members of the band were also decaying quite rapidly at the time, which the movie quite bluntly reveals; several scenes involve the members of the band arguing and sniping pettily with each other. The concert ended up being held on the rooftop of the building of Apple Corps on January 30, 1969.

The film was shot at Twickenham Film Studios and later at the Beatles' Apple Corps headquarters in London from January 2 to January 31, 1969. It was released about a year later than planned; it took that long for there to be any consensus about what the accompanying album would be like. Unfortunately, it was an incomplete consensus; while John Lennon and George Harrison were happy with it, Paul McCartney wasn't even aware of the finishing touches until they were a fait accompli. This led to a chain of events that led to the film being released in May 1970 — and after Paul had issued a press release saying he was leaving the band indefinitely. Naturally, this soured the film's pre-existing depiction of the stressful relations between the Beatles.

Its Cult Soundtrack of the same name (which has its own page) effectively became the last official Beatles album to be released as a result; it won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Score and produced the band's final hits in "Let It Be", "Across The Universe", "Get Back" and "The Long and Winding Road".

The film was long subject to Keep Circulating the Tapes, because there was no home video release since a LaserDisc edition in 1982. Its long absence from home video was never officially explained, although the most common rumor was that the surviving Beatles just didn't feel good about it. However, on January 30, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the rooftop concert, an announcement was made that Peter Jackson would organize a remaster and re-release of the original film, as well as create a new documentary from some 55 hours of raw footage from January 1969, including the full version of the rooftop concert. The eight-hour documentary, entitled The Beatles: Get Back, was released in 3 parts from November 25-27, 2021 on Disney+.

Tropes present in Let it Be:

  • Accentuate the Negative: The Get Back miniseries supplies a multitude of evidence that Lindsay-Hogg edited the film to make the sessions seem more hostile than they actually were, although curiously, he also omitted mention of Harrison's brief departure. Overall, although there were moments of hostility, the band were mostly pretty cordial with one another, especially after they moved from Twickenham to Apple Studio, often joking around and having fun playing covers of old rock tunes. (Ironically, the most negative part of the sessions, George quitting the band and going home, was left out of the film completely.)
  • Added Alliterative Appeal:
    • "Maggie Mae"
    • "Mother Mary" and "Whisper words of wisdom, let it be..."
  • Blank Stare: The infamous scene where Paul delivers an earnest talk to John about how the band is going stale and they need to shake things up by doing live shows. John simply stares at Paul blankly.
  • Broken Record: The word "everybody" in "I've Got A Feeling".
  • Call-Back: In a meta sense, even crossing over into Bookend territory. "Besame Mucho", performed by the band in the film, was one of the songs they performed in their failed audition for Decca Records on New Year's Day 1962.
  • Changed for the Video: The filmed performances of "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road" are different from the versions which were later released.
    • The "Let It Be" recording, both single and album versions, is based on take 27-A from the Jan. 31, 1969 session. The film version, which has never been released as an audio recording, was the next take, 27-B. In the filmed video, McCartney sings "there will be no sorrow" in the last verse instead of "there will be an answer".
    • Similarly, the filmed performance of "The Long and Winding Road" is from the Jan. 31 session, while the released song is based off a recording from five days earlier. Also, the live performance is in accordance with Paul's original conception of the song as a simple piano ballad, while the released version includes the stringed instruments and backing choir overdubbed by Phil Spector.
  • Concert Climax: Although the real sessions didn't end with the concert (see Manipulative Editing below).
  • Control Freak: McCartney comes off as this, mainly thanks to two long scenes:
    • A combative conversation with Harrison in which McCartney says that he's not trying to be controlling, to which Harrison answers "I'm okay, I don't mind, I'll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won't play at all, if you don't want me to play. Now, whatever it is that will please you, I'll do it."
    • A long scene where McCartney talks to Lennon about how he thinks the band is getting stale, and needs to play a few live shows, in response to which Lennon simply stares at him in silence.
  • Cover Version:
    • "You've Really Got a Hold on Me", previously recorded by the Beatles for With the Beatles, rehearsed again during this film. Not recorded in 1969.
    • "Shake, Rattle, and Roll", also performed by the band during the movie. Not recorded in 1969.
    • "Kansas City", also recorded for With the Beatles, also rehearsed during this film, not recorded in 1969.
    • "Maggie Mae", a Liverpool folk song which the Beatles often performed in their Quarrymen days.
  • Documentary
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: "Let It Be" was inspired by a dream Paul had about his mother, who passed away when he was young.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • The film includes footage of the band rehearsing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Oh! Darling". Those songs were set aside, only to be recorded later in 1969 and included on the Abbey Road album.
    • George and Ringo work through "Octopus's Garden", another song that was set aside until Abbey Road (see Evolving Music below).
  • Evolving Music:
    • We see the band running through a hard rock version of "Two of Us" during the Twickenham sessions. When they play the finished version in the studio, it is a mellow acoustic pop song.
    • In one scene Ringo demonstrates his new composition "Octopus's Garden", which is pretty much only one verse. George, inspired, goes to a piano and pounds out the chords that became the song's chorus (the "We would be so happy, you and me" part). John Lennon then sits down and plays drums, something he did only once on an official Beatles recording (Back in the U.S.S.R.").
  • Finagle's Law: there were many disasters in the making of this film—many of them filmed.
  • Grief Song: It's difficult to listen to "The Long and Winding Road", without thinking of it as a goodbye song to the individual Beatles and each one of them parting to go their own way.
  • It's All About Me: "I Me Mine".
  • Last Note Hilarity: Lennon's "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition", which he originally said at the end of the rooftop concert, but Spector edited it into the "Get Back" song.
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "The Long And Winding Road".
  • Manipulative Editing:
    • The film ends with the concert on the roof, but in fact the "Apple studio performance" (the takes of "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road", and "Two of Us") happened the day after the rooftop performance, on the last day of filming and recording, January 31, 1969.
    • Some of the editing was due to the evolving nature of the project. The original idea was simply to film video clips that would be part of a television broadcast in which the Beatles played their new songs live. After The Beatles completely failed to get their crap together and organize themselves well enough to put on a TV show, the footage was repurposed as a film which would both recoup their investment and finish their contract with United Artists. However, not all of the songs were properly filmed and/or recorded, requiring some creative editing. No one is performing "I Me Mine" when the song plays on the soundtrack because that song wasn't properly recorded until a year after the "Get Back" sessions.
    • Harrison's Rage Quit from the band was not included in the edit, although it lasted for nine days and only ended after Paul and the film crew agreed to abandon Twickenham Studios and reconvene at Apple. Get Back restores this scene.
  • Mythology Gag: One scene has the band jamming "Besame Mucho". This was a song that the Beatles covered during their early days, and was one of the songs they played during their unsuccesssful audition for Decca Records, Jan. 1, 1962.
  • Numerological Motif: "One After 909", a reference to the fact that Lennon considered nine his lucky number.
  • One-Woman Song: "Maggie Mae".
  • Performance Video: Most of the movie, with the first portion being The Beatles rehearsing their new material and the latter portion being them playing the finished songs live. A careful viewer will notice that the finished products are mostly McCartney songs. George could not get the others to give his material equal attention, even while he was bringing gems like "All Things Must Pass" into the studio, and Lennon was at an all-time creative ebb.
  • Protest Song: "Get Back"
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • The film was originally conceived as a documentary of the Beatles' "rebirth" as a live performing band. Instead, by capturing the tension and infighting among the band members (including a famous spat between McCartney and Harrison), it became a chronicle of the band's break-up, lampshaded by the choice of name. When originally conceived as a chronicle of the band's rebirth, the project was entitled "Get Back". By the time the pieces had been picked up and enough footage cobbled together to release as an album and film, it had metamorphosed into "Let It Be", effectively serving as the band's epitaph.
    • "Get Back" was written as a Take That! against the then recent anti-immigration laws in the UK.
  • Recut: Peter Jackson's version of the film is, essentially, this from the same raw film footage and audio as the original film.
  • Revisiting the Roots:
    • The driving concept behind the album and film was an attempt to return to the sort of spontaneous, energetic rock and roll they'd played at the beginning of their career, as opposed to the sophisticated and intricately produced music they'd moved on to. It didn't work out so well in practice, see Real Life Writes the Plot above.
    • This is why "One After 909" was performed during the sessions. Lennon wrote it in 1959, it became a staple of their early club dates, then they tried it at Abbey Road in 1963 (at the same session they recorded "From Me to You") but didn't like the performance and set it aside. So six years later when the band was making a concerted effort to get back to their 1962-63 sound, "One After 909" was revived, rehearsed, and performed/recorded on the Apple rooftop.
  • Rooftop Concert: Trope Codifier. What most people don't remember is that the Apple rooftop performance only came after the band tried and failed to agree on anywhere else to play the planned live show—a North African ampitheatre, a cruise ship, the Royal Albert Hall, etc. After failing to come up with anything better they simply went to the top of their own building. And they still managed an iconic, much imitated rock music moment.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Lennon namedrops Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone", the FBI, the CIA, The BBC, BB King, Doris Day and then-Manchester United manager Matt Busby during "Dig It".
    • "Across The Universe" uses the Sanskrit phrase "Jai Guru Deva". The Sanskrit phrase is a sentence fragment whose words could have many meanings. Literally it approximates as "glory to the shining remover of darkness," and can be paraphrased as "Victory to God divine", "Hail to the divine guru", or the phrase commonly invoked by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in referring to his spiritual teacher "All Glory to Guru Dev".
    • Paul's line "Thanks, Mo" in "Get Back" refers to Maureen, Ringo Starr's wife who was applauding nearby.
    • The film includes the band rehearsing a song called "Suzy Parker" that was never finished or recorded. Suzy Parker was a real person.
  • A Simple Plan: The Beatles had already tried to get out of their obligation for a fourth movie with Yellow Submarine. Failing that, this was probably seen as the next easiest thing to do.
  • Something Blues: For You Blue was originally titled George's Blues (Because You're Sweet and Lovely).
  • Special Guest: Billy Preston on piano. He pops up without explanation, but is prominently featured in the performances that take up the second half of the film.
  • Time Skip: Not that you would know it from the movie. The pause in recording that lasted more than a week, after Harrison temporarily quit the band, is omitted.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Don't Let Me Down".
  • Three Chords and the Truth: The album was intended as a back to basics to their original, simpler sound. Played straight in the film, where the band sounds raw to the point of painful; averted on the album, when John hired Phil Spector to dub strings and a heavenly choir over "The Long and Winding Road", to Paul's extreme displeasure.
  • Train Song: One After 909.