About halfway through Peter Jackson’s new documentary series of the Beatles making their live Let It Be album in 1969, Paul stares vacantly into space and utters the phrase “And then there were two.” His eyes water over and he almost cries. So did I. Ringo sitting nearby even looks dejected. George had left on Friday at noon with the terse comment “I will be leaving the band now.” i.e., quitting the Beatles. The fab four had had a meeting on the weekend to try to patch things up. The meeting did not go well. On Monday morning Ringo and then Paul come in for work. An aid tells them that says John is not answering his phone and won’t likely be coming in. This prompts Paul’s eerily prophetic comment.
This is the “low point” in a poignantly fascinating close up with the Beatles at work in the studio. New Zealander Peter Jackson who directed, wrote and produced the The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy series, does an incredible job here with this 7 hour 3 episode TV series. It’s probably one of the best movies I have ever seen. John does come in a little later. Things do get patched up with George and he returns later in the week. They move to the new Apple studio and keyboardist Billy Preston is invited to join the group.
This is a documentary about making a documentary. After 3 years of no public concerts, the Beatles commit to work 21 days in the studio to prepare 14 songs for some kind of public event – a movie, a concert, a TV series, an album?? No one seems to know and the lads are divided. John is willing to do a live concert but the others are unsure. Paul quips that they have grown shy. Finally the idea of a roof top concert is pitched and they sign on. The movie ends with this live concert on the roof of the Apple Records building in Saville Row.
What I like about this movie apart from the great live music is that the personality of each individual Beatle is on display. As things continuously derail, the pressure mounts to complete the project. Paul starts pushing them a bit. George feels rushed which prompts his walkout; John is typically cynical and funny, Ringo is like a teddy bear that holds them all together. Despite their differences, they have each other’s back and love goofing around. It speaks volumes that Paul and Ringo supported the release of this “tell all” warts and all, now 50 years later. It corrects for example the false story that John and George came to physical blows – this never happened. Yoko Ono is silently present at all times with John. Paul brings in Linda Eastman several times. Paul recently said he is happy that the series is out because it corrects the record that he was somehow the root cause of the Beatles breakup, which he himself had bought into at the time. (John, the founder becomes the first one to leave in 1970.)
The concert on the roof is hilarious with 2 bobbies wondering if they should start arresting people due to the noise complaints and passersby on the street wondering what is happening. The Let it Be album is “live recorded” in situ and not dubbed as was the usual way albums are made. It turns out the material was judged to be “uneven in nature” so the Beatles delay releasing it until 1970 after some adjustments by engineer Phil Spector (at John’s request). This was after they had gone into the studio yet again to produce Abbey Road which has been acknowledged as the best album they ever made. So there is creative life in them yet when this movie ends. In 2003 the “Naked” version of the Let It Be album was issued by Paul to better reflect the actual sonic quality they were trying to achieve by recoding live. It is an amazing listening experience!!!
All in all, 5.5 stars out of 5. If your a Beatles fan, you have to see Let It Be!
(Note, it’s currently on the Disney Plus channel. You can sign up, cancel and then watch it all month.)
PS. John is my favorite! Who is yours?