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Filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg is having a bit of a “hail the conquering hero” moment that very few people would have expected him to be having this far into the 21st century, least of all himself. Although he has had many successes in film and in the theater over the last 60 years or so, he remains most famous as the director of the Beatles documentary “Let It Be” — and that 1970 film remains most famous as something that has been kept locked in the vault since it got a brief VHS and laserdisc release in the early 1980s. Shot in 1969 as the Beatles recorded their next-to-last album, “Let It Be” has been remembered largely as a glum look at a great band, rehearsing not so much for an album or concert as rehearsing for a breakup.

But what if it wasn’t really that at all? Two surprising developments have occurred to give “Let It Be” a very belated rehabilitation in the public mindset. First, Peter Jackson scoured dozens of hours of Lindsay-Hogg’s raw footage from ’69 to come up with 2021’s “The Beatles: Get Back,” an eight-hour miniseries that portrayed this month-in-the-life of the Beatles as a sometimes fraught but ultimately triumphant period for the group. Jackson’s version was widely heralded as a corrective to Lindsay-Hogg’s movie — the mostly happy version the world would have seen if only the original had been edited differently. But now, a strange thing is happening: “Let It Be” is being put on public view again after being tucked out of sight for four decades, in restored and remastered form … and it’s being seen as its own corrective. Which is to say, ultimately just as upbeat as Jackson’s take.

Is it really possible the public, and maybe the Beatles and Apple as well, had it wrong all these years, and “Let It Be” is actually a barrel of fun? No doubt opinions will vary widely, now that the film is suddenly unspooling on Disney+ for all to see. Even within the walls of Variety, it’s a Rorschach test: Film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote a commentary saying that the movie can now be reevaluated as “joyous,” whereas music editor Jem Aswad wrote a completely contrary take, writing that it remains a bummer. Beatles fans can decide for themselves, but as the film is seen afresh, there will definitely be an argument being made by many that Jackson and Lindsay-Hogg were right about what they were saying about “Let It Be” in their interviews about “Get Back” two and a half years ago, and not just blowing smoke, when they argued that the original 1970 film was not dour, but just perceived that way, due to (a) the 16mm-to-35mm blow-up looking drab, and (b) the fact that the Beatles shocked the world by blowing up right before the premiere, that context forever altering how it was perceived.

If you’re looking for depressing moments in “Let It Be,” there aren’t many overt ones; the famous tiff in which Paul McCartney tries to direct a frustrated George Harrison in his guitar playing is over in about 30 seconds. (George quitting the group for a short period after that is documented only in “Get Back,” not “Let It Be,” which remains focused primarily on the music.) Apart from that… is John Lennon secretly resentful, or actually sort of cheerful, in the time frame being captured? Is Ringo Starr bored, or just focused on his job, in-between a couple of cut-up moments? What you bring to the film from your own knowledge of late-period Beatles lore will surely affect your interpretation of the prevailing mood. But beyond being proof that the Fabs were a great jam band as well as a fist-tight playing unit, “Let It Be” is ultimately the story of a collective that gets its shit together after an uncertain start. And whatever stairs the film takes gets to the top of the Apple building, is there any happier 20-minute ending in the history of the movies than the rooftop concert?

Following is an Q&A, edited for length and clarity, conducted with a very pleased and vindicated-feeling Lindsay-Hogg on the eve of the restored film’s Disney+ release.

I have to tell you, I had bought a DVD bootleg of your film at some point, just to have it, but then I never watched it because I really wanted to wait for the chance to see it in a proper experience.

It was a long wait, though, wasn’t it?

Yeah, I’ve been sitting on that bootleg for decades. Well, what’s it like for you this week? Your life wasn’t depending on this movie coming out again, but it had to have been a thorn in your side, to some extent, that people were judging it in absentia.

A thorn in my side and anywhere else you can put a thorn. I was experiencing a variety of emotions for 50 years. I mean, I was frustrated. I was sad. I was feeling an opportunity had been missed all the way around. I mean, it wasn’t so much anybody’s fault what happened at the beginning. It was like collateral damage from the Beatles’ breakup. But I always knew there was something there, and that the first time out, because of all that was going on at the same time, people were not giving it a proper shake. I mean, could you imagine if, when the Beatles that broken up, we had social media? At least we didn’t have that! But we had a lot of snarky remarks about it  — people who completely misunderstood it, or may not even have seen it. So I’m thrilled and quite moved by the fact it’s available again.

As you know, no one ever filmed the Beatles rehearsing before. That was part of the good luck of this whole project. But also I realized when I was doing it, because I’d worked with them in ‘66 with “Paperback Writer” and “Rain,” is that they were different and they were changing, and what  the camera was observing. When we first knew them, they’d begun in the early years of the 1960s as the moptops from Liverpool. And then they took over the world, because the world was waiting for something to happen after President Kennedy had been killed, and then it happened to be these four extraordinary people. But when we were doing “Let It Be,” I realized I was getting them at a different point in their life, as they were changing, which was really very interesting to me, and I thought would be to the audience.

I saw it a year ago, because we’ve been working on it slowly for for the past couple of years, Peter’s team in New Zealand, and then the DP, Tony Richmond, and me in Los Angeles. And there it is again, and so we don’t have to worry about people getting the wrong idea, because times have changed. People know what really happened. And also, it just looks so good. It looks so fresh. It looks the way I’ve always wanted people to see it.

You’ve said that you didn’t want this remastering to look too digital, as cleaned up as it obviously looks. But it is very bright and crisp compared to what everyone remembers.

Yeah. Partly what Peter and I talked about is that, when he worked on “Get Back,” he wanted it to have a slightly more digital look. And then when we talked about “Let It Be” coming out, we talked about wanting it to be a little different from “Get Back,” for a lot of reasons, and also to have maybe a little more cinematic sense to it, a little more grain in it. And I think that’s what we’ve got. He’s got this studio in New Zealand, which can pretty much do anything. I mean, if you want a shave 6,000 miles away, he can do it for you.

There’s one shot in the film where there’s like a piece of hair hanging off the microphone or something, and that’s something we probably wouldn’t have expected to see quite so clearly in the old prints of “Let It Be.”

That’s in “Across the Universe,” I think. At the beginning, we talked about taking that out, because they can take it out. We talked about taking that out. And then we thought, no, it actually was there, this little funny bug of hair, which is on the kind of felt of the mic or whatever the covering of the mic is. So, leave it as an eccentricity. So that was a decision. I mean, in the history of major world artistic decisions, I don’t think it was a major one, but it was one we thought, “Leave it, because that’s what it really was.” And we didn’t clean things up too much. I mean, yeah, we were able to get some hairs out of the gate, which just spoiled the image a little bit. But basically what you saw yesterday was cut for cut what was released in 1970. It is the same movie.

When I talked to Peter Jackson when “Get Back” came out, he was praising a lot of your work and, and he just talked about the great coverage you had, that he was able to work with different edits for things in his series. For starters, it seems like you had a lot of cameras…

Well, we had a lot of cameras on the roof. We didn’t have a lot of cameras downstairs. For the bulk of the picture, from Twickenham to then when we moved over to Apple, we had just two cameras. … “Hey Jude” (the music video Lindsay-Hogg directed for that 1968 single, with its very basic location and crew) is really the father to these movies — mine and Peter’s.  

Peter was very respectful. He’s a great director, and wonderful man; he’s been very, very affectionate toward me in this whole procedure. And one of the things which is interesting is, if he saw a sequence that he wanted to put together and it was the same sequence I’d had in “Let It Be,” he never just lifted from “Let It Be” and dropped it into “Get Back.” He’d edit the sequence with different camera angles so it was his cut of the sequence, and he never sort of trods on my cut of a sequence. So in a funny way, you’ll see the same thing going on between them, but his will look different from mine and mine will look different from his.

Do you have any favorite moments in your film that are specific to your version?

John and Yoko dancing [to George Harrison’s “I Me Mine,” which the others are rehearsing]. It’s so touching.

It’s interesting seeing something like “Let It Be” with the amount of hindsight available to us now, and it, for me, has a certain poignancy to it because we know it happened at the end. I mean, when John says at the end, “I hope we passed the audition,” that’s an Oscar-worthy closing line to the movie. But then so many things happened to them all. John got murdered; George died young; there were losses within the Beatles family. And yet there they are, in their late twenties.

And also ending on the roof: I didn’t know what we’d get on the roof until… I mean, we almost didn’t get on the roof. They didn’t make up their mind until about five minutes before. But we had the 11 cameras. That’s where we had a lot of cameras, because I knew it was a one-off. We were gonna get what we got, and I hoped it was gonna be covered properly, so that when it was gonna be edited there’d be enough to move the pieces around. But the thing I didn’t expect, and the thing which touches me every time that I see it, is the connection between the four of them up there on the roof and the way that they play and interact with each other, and make their eye contact with each other back and forth as they’re singing a harmony line, or as they’re about to come in with something else or George is doing the solo or if Ringo is coming in right on time. They all are so connected, and the four of them are having such a good time. And that’s the thing I didn’t know we were gonna get. Every time I see it, I’m just moved and thrilled by the exuberance of them playing together as a band again.

Because even though the audience is a hundred feet below them, they were still playing like they were playing to an audience. That was the thing which Paul always wanted to achieve, and I always thought he was right, that they could do whatever they wanted in the studio, or solo, but Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr as a group meant something, and when they wrote their songs and played the songs, they wanted people to connect to their songs. They wanted what an author wants when he writes a book or a painter paints a picture — he wants someone to look at it, connect to it. And I always took Paul’s side on that, thinking that they need to connect to an audience. Every so often, they need to get the bounce-back. Because I’ve worked in the theater, and sometimes I think the last member of the cast to come into the picture is the audience. Because there’s a bounce between the people on stage and the audience reaction, the laughter, or no reaction, and then you’ve gotta get the reaction. So that’s what I think they felt, that they were playing to an audience again, even though they couldn’t see them.

I’ve often thought of that as the most celebrated concert of all time, if we do consider it a concert. That was a victory. But did you still harbor any regrets after that, like, “Oh, I wish we’d gone to Libya”? [As seen in “Get Back,” Lindsay-Hogg was originally trying to convince the Beatles to film a TV special in front of a live audience in a spectacular location in “the cradle of civilization,” but met with a lot of resistance to going on location.]

Once it turned from a concert to a documentary, it was an entirely different beast. I knew that as fascinating as watching the Beatles rehearse and work on songs was, it had to be aiming somewhere. We needed to have a finish for it. And then I figured, if I couldn’t get them into Libya, maybe I could get them up two floors in their own building.

And I was very happy we were up there. I mean, you could see in your mind’s eye, the split screen — by the Mediterranean, midnight, 2000 people in a pre-Christian stadium, whatever. And then the top of Apple in London — I mean, you couldn’t be more different. But I just was happy that there was gonna be a resolution and a concert and a finish for the movie, which maybe it was appropriate for the movie and appropriate for them. I was always thinking of them, and their lives, where they were, what they were doing. Listen, I was very lucky to spend that that month with them, just being around them. You know, I had a job to do, as Peter Jackson calls it. But they were a fascinating group of people, John and Paul and George and Ringo, just the four of them together, to watch the interplay between them, and add Yoko into the mix. It was just a fascinating time and so therefore I felt lucky to be the person in the middle of all that and did what I did and then offered it up to the world.

And then for me, I offered it up to the world — and it was rejected the first time around because they’d broken up. People thought it was the goodbye movie. And it wasn’t technically as good as we want it to be. And then it was just taken and put in a closet for 50 years. And so I felt very much misunderstood, because you have a kind of protective sense to your movie, like a maybe father to a child. And I just felt, “Oh, they just don’t get it.” And that’s why I wanted to come out again and have a new set of eyes on it. That’s what really thrills me the most, is getting another chance. You don’t always get it, the second chance in life.

Have Paul and Ringo seen it, this restoration, do you know?

I don’t know. I don’t think Ringo came to the L.A. screening last night. Paul may be going to the London one tonight. I’m not sure. I haven’t heard. I mean, I know that over the years, Ringo had some — how would I put it? — negative things to say about “Let It Be,” but I don’t know if he’s seen it for 50 years.

We had a screening when I showed the final rough cut to them in London, and then we all went out for dinner, and then there was a discotheque connected to the restaurant. We went down to the discotheque, and Ringo jived with Maureen until the lights went off. And then Paul and I had a nightcap and talked, and we thought it was good. It was full steam ahead — I mean, everybody was behind it. And then it got caught in the tsunami of them breaking up.

And by then it had become very important… because the breakup was not only the four men breaking up, but it was like the breakup of the 1960s. And then of course, at the end of the 1960s, you have the Rolling Stones at Altamont, which was really the bad wine of the 1960s.

Disney+ did a great job on “Get Back” and really opened that picture up for people. And so I’m assuming and hoping they will do the same for “Let It Be” and, from my point of view, give the world a chance to see it again and see, in fact, what a really fascinating movie it is.

Going back to Ringo for a second, he said, “Well, I think there’s no joy in it.” … I haven’t seen him for a while. But, listen, he’s an extraordinary human being. I mean, he just is funny, resilient, brave. He went through so much as a kid; I don’t know if you know he spent much of his youth in a hospital. And he’s one of the great drummers; all of the rock ‘n’ roll drummers say that he and Charlie Watts were the two. So he can think what he likes — but I still like him! I hope he sees it, because if you come into it when you’ve been thinking about it a certain way for a lot of years, it’s really surprising, that it’s four guys who are working together and collaborating in the way that most bands collaborate.

One doesn’t want to say that anything about the Beatles is “typical,” but it does feel like you’re seeing a month in the creative life of a typical band, where things are a little rough at first and then by the end they sound like a small army. A typical great band, at least, where everything does jibe in the end.

Well, exactly, it’s like actors getting together to rehearse a play that they all are working toward a common goal. They all have their separate and together skills. They don’t always agree. I mean, listen, actors… That sequence with Paul and George… “or I won’t play at all”: that could be five times a week in a rehearsal room in the theater. And the Beatles had final cut, and they could get anything out they wanted to, and they never interfered at all. And that little sequence, people took it originally as, “Oh my God, this is a terrible fight between Paul and George.” It wasn’t, and they never said, “Hey, people will get the wrong idea if we keep that in the picture.” No, that was them — like, that could happen every other Wednesday, you know?

On a completely different technical note, to talk aspect ratios for a moment: when the curtains opened at the theatrical preview screening, some people were surprised when the curtains opened up and it was an old-fashioned, television-style 4:3 aspect ratio. Did it play that way in theaters, or was it ever cropped for 1.85:1?

We shot it on 16 mil and it got blown up to 35, with little adjustments being made in the frame to do with the blow up. But as far as I remember, it was screened in that kind of square format. And then when it wasn’t being seen anymore in theaters and it went to VHS, the ancient form, it again had some frame alteration because of the VHS. And so it was really like a cat: you know who the mother is but you never know who the father is, so it very much affects what it looks like but you don’t know how it got like that. With the VHS, bits were cut off from the the original 16 mil blow-up to 35. I mean, its whole little mongrel history…

When Peter Jackson and I first got together, he said, “Tell me the story about ‘Let It Be.’ Tell me the whole thing.” So I told him what had happened, and then how it had this bad release, and then no one knew what happened to it. And so he said, looking at me, “Except for you, ‘Let It Be’ was an orphan.” And the word struck me so deeply. Because he’d found the word — that, in fact, “Let It Be” had been orphaned and abandoned.

And now again, partly thanks to him, because he advocated it for it to come out again… Because he said, “These movies are different movies. There’s a ‘Get Back’ and there’s ‘Let It Be,’ and they are similar because it’s about this time of the Beatles’ life. But they’re totally different and both need to be seen.” So he was a real advocate for it coming out again.  But the word orphan struck me, and it also touched me, because it is an orphan no longer. It’s out in the world again, and people can look after it.

It’s a happy ending, especially for anyone who was cynical who thought maybe they were just giving lip service to “Let It Be” being on the docket to come out again, as an excuse to ease “Get Back” into the world. Time passed, and the world didn’t really know it was being worked on behind the scenes. It’s kind of nice actually, that it’s coming out like two and a half years later, that there’s some space in between and now people can judge this afresh on its own.

I agree with you entirely, because if it had come out — like if it had been like a double feature, which I used to go to see in the old days when I was growing up, or “Get Back” and then two months later “Let It Be” — they would’ve swallowed each other up, or “Let It Be” would probably been eaten by “Get Back.” But the good thing and the very smart and intelligent thing by Apple, me, Peter, and then Disney+ is, it’s been given it two and a half years, and so it’s fresh from our memory of “Get Back.”

I mean, I love “Get Back”! The memory of “Get Back” is there. It’s just epic. And then there’s this kind of delicate little guy that’s gonna come in and do its magic for you, which is “Let It Be” two and a half years later. I agree with you entirely.

It is so short, so that you go, “Wait, we’re at the rooftop already?” But having it compact like that is to its benefit in certain ways. It doesn’t have as much narrative to it, but for the people who really want to see and hear the music, there are very concentrated doses of that strange feeling you get when you are hearing classic tracks that actually ended up on an album and realize a human played that part in real life, not some mythological being or AI creation or something.

Exactly. And the thing is, Peter originally, as far as I understand it, had gotten done a two-hour cut, which is what the original arrangement with Disney was. It was gonna be theatrical release. Then along came COVID, and there were no people to go in the theater, and then there were no theaters, and then there’s nothing except for Peter to have a year to be able to go on working on it in New Zealand. And then he thought, “Well, I’ll just see what happens. I’ll add a bit more, add a bit more.” And of course then this entirely different picture, which no one had been expecting, comes out, and he had eight hours.

My brief was, it was supposed to be a commercial release as the third picture in the United Artists deal, because they’d done “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night,” and they (UA) had hoped for another fiction picture, but they weren’t offered it. The Beatles said, no, this is to be the third picture. And so I really only had an hour and 30 minutes to tell the story. It’s so interesting when you talking about the music; there had to be a lot of music in it, certainly then, because it’s the Beatles. And so what I was trying to do is navigate between the music and then the salient bits of conversation, bits of exchange between them or the wonderful little piece near the end when you have Paul talking to John and he just lays it out so clearly, in his opinion, what they need to do.

And then he has this wonderful reference to playing in the Lester Deford Hall, and he was saying, “Oh, I remember we were so nervous the first night and it was really terrible.” And you think to yourself: the Beatles, being so nervous? “And we were so terrible. And then by the third or fourth night…” That sequence is fascinating to me because it really is (looking to lay down) the template for what they do or do not do in the years to come. And so, because I had a shorter picture to make than Peter, is I had to be very careful how to combine the music — which we all wanted, and we want it now as much as 50 years ago — with these moments between them. So you understood who they were and who they were at that time in their life. Because they weren’t who they were when we first met them.

With the personalities in the film as they come through, Paul seems very much, as you’ve mentioned, the driver behind all this. And so John is a little bit recessive, but not in an unhappy way — he’s so focused on his relationship with Yoko, but he seems invested, still. After the breakup it would come out that he had these ill feelings, but he doesn’t seem to be experiencing those at the time, or if he is he’s doing an incredible job of suppressing that. He seems like he’s actually having a good time, even though he’s not being nearly as forceful as Paul. It’s an interesting dynamic to try to make sense of.

It is very interesting, because see, when I first met them to talk about it was after we’d done the “Hey Jude” video, which they had a crowd for, which then translated into the wish to do a concert, and, and Paul was the one who had the most definite view of what their near-future should be. Certainly to make records, certainly to collaborate and make music, but also every so often to perform and give it to the audience. John and Yoko were aiming towards something different, but there was no lack of love between Paul and John, who were like, as you know, brothers.

And one of the things I love in the movie is when they’re doing “Two of Us,” and John is whistling at the end, and then his eyes shift and go back to Paul. Like, “Is that okay? Did I end that one? All right.” And you see how connected they are as human beings and as musicians. I mean, George was frustrated because they weren’t paying attention to his songs enough, but he worked through that. And again, by the time we get to the roof, they are these four beautiful kids who know they’re the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.

John’s extended whistling coda at the end of “Two of Us” is actually my favorite part of the movie.

Oh, it’s heartbreaking. I can’t whistle like that — it’s amazing. But there’s a poignancy to it, given that the song is “Two of Us.”

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