Let It Be Review | Get Back to Normal

by Andrew Parker

Available to view for the first time in several decades and arriving with a newfound sense of context, Let It Be showcases a side of The Beatles that no one was ready for upon its 1970 release. Often cited as a film where viewers could get a ground level look at how and why one of the greatest bands in music history broke up, Let It Be was criticized as being too morose, downtrodden, and devoid of joy, not just by critics who misunderstood the project, but also by members of The Beatles themselves. It was once thought that Let It Be would never see the light of day again during the lifetimes of the band’s surviving members, but thanks to Peter Jackson’s meticulous restoration and assembly of the landmark miniseries achievement The Beatles: Get Back, the time has come for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film to get a proper re-release and fresh assessment.

Much of The Beatles: Get Back came from the raw footage Hogg shot for Let It Be, documenting a fractured time in the history of the band as they attempted to rehearse and pull together new material. Originally intended as a concert film for a show that never actually happened, Hogg’s work instead became a fly on the wall documentary that captured the fab four of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr in a warts and all fashion, without any sit down interviews or other archival materials to add further context outside the frame. Much of what could be said about Get Back applies to Let It Be. There’s jovial moments of mirth, tense disagreements, lots of goofing around while rehearsing, and it all builds to an iconic rooftop performance that became historic on several different levels.

It’s quite easy to see why Let It Be became a topic of unease for The Beatles and their fans. It’s not celebratory in any real way. There’s no catering to fan service by playing all the hits. It’s not a traditional documentary, and certainly nothing like the fun loving big screen larks The Beatles previously participated in. And sometimes it’s clearly hard for some of them to be there and force themselves into contributing to something that has collectively gotten away from all of them.

Hogg’s work here certainly wasn’t courting mainstream appeal, and Let It Be remains a staunchly “take or leave it” sort of prospect. But when viewed through the lens of history and hindsight, the film offers a lot of trenchant insight about what it meant to be a part of a musical juggernaut and to feel unfulfilled personally and professionally. Although Hogg had to pivot from his intended film once he started shooting and assembling Let It Be, one can’t accuse him of overlooking the story presented to him; one of people trying desperately to meet each other on common ground and putting on a brave face for the sake of a greater purpose. Viewers, and indeed the band members themselves, weren’t ready for such raw authenticity back in 1970, and as such looked at the film as something far more bitter and upsetting than it actually is.

At this specific point in their collaboration, The Beatles were a brand unlike any other, but as individuals they were growing in ways that made keeping up appearances stifling. It wasn’t anybody’s specific fault, as so many were quick to assign blame back in the day, but it’s clear that these people are tired of being caught in the perpetual whirlwind that was The Beatles. Let It Be captures John, Paul, George, and Ringo as human beings rather than icons. There is a pronounced amount of friendship and camaraderie to be found here, and it’s clear from some of the musical medleys, covers, and re-arrangements of familiar tunes that they still love playing together, as long as it stays loose and free form. It’s only whenever they all have to come back down to Earth and start being “The Beatles” again that the resentment and begrudging sense of obligation starts to creep into frame. The nature of the music industry beast weighed heavily upon their successes and failures, and Hogg’s film captures that empathetically and without embellishment.

Let It Be now seems triumphant and nuanced when compared to everything that came out about The Beatles in the terrific Anthology miniseries and Jackson’s Get Back. Instead of seeing anger, jealousy, and an aversion towards working together, Let It Be now captures more low key senses of confusion and resignation. If Get Back traded in unfiltered minutiae that had a kaleidoscopic emotional impact, Let It Be is the succinct overview that does more or less the same in a smaller, smarter package. Hogg’s film is a document of a break-up that had to happen, and if more people saw Let It Be for what it truly was, maybe the feelings around the situation wouldn’t have been so mixed upon its release. The perceived sadness and anger surrounding Let It Be has drifted away, probably in no small part thanks to Jackson’s work and his involvement in a restoration that looks and sounds better than the film ever has before. All that’s left now is an intimate look at people at a flashpoint in their lives. As the film builds to its still show-stopping rooftop concert climax, Let It Be is best viewed as a film that urges the viewer not to be sad that something ended, but to be grateful that it lasted as long as it did.

Let It Be is now available to stream on Disney+.

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