Is The Beatles' New Documentary Rewriting The Band's Breakup?

Apple Records partnering with Peter Jackson to direct a new Beatles documentary edited from the hours of footage recorded for the 1970 film, Let It Be is great news for the band's fans, but could this new edit of the Let It Be footage be rewriting the story of The Beatles' breakup?

Let It Be is a documentary about The Beatles rehearsing and recording the album of the same name. Filmed in the early part of 1969, the band would break up later that year before officially dissolving in 1970. It's notorious for including sequences that hint at the discord brewing between band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, building off tensions that first surfaced while The Beatles were recording "The White Album."

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Let It Be has since become an incredibly tough film to find, which makes the news of Jackson's restoration especially exciting. However, seeing as it's an officially sanctioned re-editing of the material, there's a real chance the film might soften just how badly the individual Beatles come across in the footage. In which case, might the purpose of Jackson's new documentary be to rewrite the history of The Beatles' breakup in the same way Bohemian Rhapsody changed the story of Queen?

Let It Be (1970) Covers The Band's Breakup In Detail

The Beatles Let It Be Twickenham Studios

The 1970 documentary directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg covers the period in early 1969 when The Beatles were recording what they thought would be their final album - Let It Be. Originally conceived as a television special that would then accompany a live concert broadcast - one last hurrah for the immensely popular and successful band - the film uses a "fly on the wall" perspective as it observes The Beatles rehearsing. Unfortunately, what actually came of the project was far from the spectacular sendoff they imagined, and instead, the footage documents in detail the beginning of  The Beatles' breakup.

Linday-Hogg's final cut of Let It Be only clocks in at around 80 minutes, meaning that the majority of his footage has never been released. What the film does show, however, more than illustrates the growing tensions among The Beatles. Most famously, the final film includes a scene of Harrison and McCartney bickering over how to play a particular guitar riff, with Harrison's frustration coming across as he tells McCartney: "I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it." Harrison actually eneded up quitting the band during this time, though any indication of such wasn't included in the final cut of Let It Be, and shortly thereafter he was coaxed into returning.

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While Let It Be is mostly a collection of petty squabbling and the occasional performance, the film does culminate in the band's famous rooftop concert atop Apple headquarters on Savile Row, an impromptu idea to give the film some sort of happy ending. Afterwards, The Beatles would remain together long enough to record what was their true final album, Abbey Road - an experience that was far more pleasant and served as a fitting goodbye from the band - but it was Let It Be that laid bare the cracks forming within the band, signaling that the end of The Beatles was near.

Let It Be Is The Biggest Gap In The Beatles' Past

The Beatles 1969

The Beatles are one of most discussed bands in history, and every moment of their career has been analyzed over and over again for new generations of fans. Most of the band's discography and filmography has received remastered releases and are readily available to purchase, rent, or even stream. But not the Let It Be film, which has been out-of-print for decades.

Let It Be was released in theaters in May 1970, months after The Beatles had broken up but before the band had officially dissolved. In 1981, the documentary received a home release on VHS and LaserDisc, but it was a poor quality transfer. Today, the film only lives on in illegal bootlegs as any official copies have become nearly impossible to find. Portions of Let It Be, including some of the never-before-seen footage, was remastered and included in The Beatles Anthology and as promotional material for the remixed album, Let It Be... Naked. And a DVD release of the film almost happened but it was reportedly blocked by both McCartney and Starr, who didn't want the pettiness on display in Let It Be to tarnish The Beatles' global brand.

That period in January 1969 is both the most documented point in The Beatles's career - with cameras rolling hours a day, week after week - but it's also the biggest gap in The Beatles' past, with much of the footage remaining unseen even today. Or rather, that was the case until the announcement of Peter Jackson's forthcoming documentary, which promises to revisit the footage and reveal the full scope of what went on during the recording of Let It Be.

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