Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper Mersey Beat
Almost 30 hours of footage were filmed for the ‘Let It Be’ film, completed in January, 1969. The Beatles had mistakenly believed that ‘Yellow Submarine’ had completed their three-picture contract with United Artists, but it hadn’t. It was decided to give UA a film of the footage the Beatles had been filming of their recording sessions at Twickenham and Apple Studios.
UA publicised the film by saying: “The picture gives an intimate view of the Beatles as musical creators and performers and shows them rehearsing, reading, philosophising and relaxing. ‘Let It Be’ is presented by Apple, an ABKCO-managed company, and was produced by Neil Aspinall and directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.”
The colour movie was 81 minutes in length, was given a ‘U’ certificate and won an Oscar in the 1970 Academy Awards for ‘Best Original Song Score: Music and Lyrics by The Beatles”.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg had worked with the Beatles on several occasions, but his direction of the film was criticised by Michael Goodwin in Rolling Stone magazine who wrote:
“One of the delights of watching a movie made by a good director is that you can sit back and relax, knowing the film-maker has got everything under control. Here, you are constantly busy doing work that Lindsay-Hogg should have done, but didn’t: cutting the bad stuff, rearranging the good stuff, placing the camera properly – really basic directorial responsibilities. You have to use so much energy doing his job for him that by the end of the film you’ve put in your hard day’s night and ought to get paid.
“Lindsay-Hogg shoots in such a way that you get pushed farther and farther away from the simple reality of the music going down. For most of the film, the cameras are in tight close-ups or (at best) medium close-ups of Paul’s nose or John’s tonsils – a technique which painfully misses the point that music is a collective activity in which musicians work together…after an hour of Lindsay-Hogg’s self-conscious attempts at being ‘cinematic’, I found myself wishing he would pull the camera far enough to get everybody in the shot at once, and go out for a sandwich. He could take lessons from Warhol on the subject of documentaries.”
in the film, has his own ideas of how the movie should have been made:
“Get very bright lights so you see everything, instead of moody lighting,
that kind of thing. With everything here, it hardly needs scenery. Really,
it all should be about him and his drum kit, it really looks great, beautiful
sitting there. Then John and his guitar and his amp, sitting there, actually
showing it at that minute. The scenery would just be the other things
around, like scaffolding, the other cameras…”
Lindsay-Hogg in a Rolling Stone interview gave an insight into the problems he had making the movie:
“It’s lucky there is a movie. There was a big push all the time to get them going. Even though half of them always were behind it, the trouble was it was never the same half. It was a terribly painful, frustrating experience. It’s not that I don’t like them. I do. It’s just that when we were trying to make the film, every day there was a different one to hate".
“It was decided to do a television special to back up the new album. The one pushing it most was Paul. George was reluctant, John was very keen, and Ringo would go along, although they changed back and forth a lot afterwards. The special was to be shown at the end of the month, the album to be released the start of the next. And then someone decided they wanted a half-hour documentary that showed how the album was made. So we started all this – making a film about making an album, it was all a bit bizarre, even then".
“The first thing we shot is the final thing you see in the cinemas, moving the old drum kit with the old Beatles logo, and replacing it with an empty piano. For those who like symbols, there’s that, although I’m not too heavily into that. But it does represent the end of something and the start of something else, which is what I intended to capture".
didn’t want to make a straight documentary. I figured if we just showed
them working, we’d learn quite a bit about them. But I did want an ending.
We all sat around and talked about that, finally deciding to go to Africa.
If was to be a sort of super ‘Hey Jude’ – the boys singing ‘Hey Jude’
8,000 times all over Africa. We hired a plane and were ready to leave
for Tunisia and that’s when George walked out. He quit the group, said
he was through, washed up, that’s it. He’d been scrapping endlessly in
the sessions at Twickenham Studios. He absolutely hated the place, said
it was like a gymnasium. George returned after a week, but wouldn’t go
to Twickenham. Africa was now out, so I got them to agree to walk up two
flights of stairs to the Apple roof".
Lindsay-Hogg then mentioned they’d had an idea of introducing an actor in policeman’s uniform who would come to interrupt the session and be quite rude to them.
...... "but when we shot it honestly, and the real Bobbies arrived, it was so charming we didn’t do that. They called in the Black Marias and all that, but they were quite nice. We thought it would be good to show how nice some policemen can be.”
On this particular scene, Michael Goodwin of Rolling Stone was to write: “In the last part of the film, a sequence where the Beatles play on the rooftop of the Apple building, there are these cops who came up to investigate the noise. We first see them outside, in the street, as they walk up to the front of the building. They open the door (this is shot from outside), and as they do so there is a cut to a reverse angle, in which we see them completing the action (opening the door) from the inside. Now this is a perfectly reasonable editing sequence for a film shot in a studio with actors, but I find it a little hard to believe that such a perfect matching shot could have been made in a documentary situation. So the next logical question is: were those cops or actors?”
There are 22 numbers featured in the film, most of them performed during the studio recording. The boys are seen playing, talking, eating, relaxing; the various people who appear in the film include Billy Preston, Derek Taylor, Yoko Ono, Mal Evans, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Heather McCartney and George Martin. The Twickenham Studio setting is featured for approximately an hour’s screen time and the film’s most exciting moment is when the Beatles emerge onto the Apple roof, overlooking Burlington Gardens. There are edited sequences of the 40 minutes they spent on the windswept roof, including the entry of the police and comments from people in the crowds that gathered in the streets below. One man, obviously incapable of appreciating that the fun of life needn’t be restricted to outside business hours, comments: “This kind of music is very good in its place, but it’s a bit of an imposition when it disrupts all the business in the area".
The Beatles conversations inside the studio cover various topics, but
at several points tempers appear frayed. George in particular, seems annoyed
at various points, specifically when Paul explains how he wants a guitar
line played. Paul mentions that he regarded their trip to India to see
the Maharishi as absurd: the group discuss the possibility of appearing
in public again and Paul mentions that he and John have written about
400 numbers since they first began song writing in the late Fifties. The
most humourous conversations take place between John and Ringo. For example:
John: “Bognor Regis is a tartan that covers Yorkshire. Rutland is the smallest county, Scarborough is a college scarf…and still the boon wasn’t over, the Queen of Sheba wore falsies”
Ringo: “I didn’t know that”
John: “Didn’t you know that? You weren’t there at the time. Cleopatra was a carpet manufacturer”
Ringo: “I didn’t know that”
John: “John Lennon….”
Ringo: “A patriot”
John: “I didn’t know that”
The critics were generally unenthusiastic about the film. Nina Hibbin of the Morning Star wrote:
“For those who expected it to throw some light of the development of the Beatles phenomenon it is disappointingly barren. Paul McCartney, now very much the guiding spirit of the team, comes over as a thorough-going professional who, one can imagine, may switch off his Beatle self out of studio hours and change into quite a different kind of person at home". “George Harrison, with his strong-boned face and shut-in expression, looks as if he could fit into any tough and isolated position – as a shepherd in Bulgaria, or the manager of a suburban post office. John Lennon and Ringo Starr appear to be the true individualists, as far as the film allows us to glimpse their individuality, with Beatles eccentricity running through their veins”.
In the Times, John Russell Taylor commented:
“The first hour consists of bits and pieces filmed at a number of different recording sessions, in which the famous four improvise, kid around and chat a little. It might be fun if it were not so grainily photographed, so incomprehensibly recorded and, at times, so erratically synchronised”.
Patrick Gibbs wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
“The setting is essentially a recording studio or rehearsing room, with the electronic apparatus artfully used, colour and lighting also. Here, the film would have us believe, we see and hear the group working up their compositions before giving the finished performance. Artists are generally wise not to let the public see how the wheels go round and in fact, the Beatles do nothing of the kind, merely going through the motions of improvisation and creation”.
Dick Richards of the Daily Mirror wrote:
“Domestic touches are added by Paul McCartney’s little stepdaughter frisking around the studio and by Yoko, who sits broodingly at her husband’s elbow throughout, looking like an inscrutable miniature Mother Earth. This session seems to inhibit John Lennon more than somewhat, especially when he and Yoko perform an ungainly waltz which will win them no Astaire-Rogers medals, and it is McCartney who comes over as the dominant figure and the musical boss”.
With all its various shortcomings, there was no denying the excellence of the movie’s soundtrack. Fans were treated to a host of numbers which included:
|Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
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