The Case for the Restored ‘Let It Be’

The Case for the Restored ‘Let It Be’

Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman offers a counterpoint to some fans who’ve been whining about various aspects of the reissue of “Let It Be.” Here’s his more evenhanded impression of the 1970 film’s restoration. …  

Well, I watched the new, spiffed-up “Let It Be” a day or so after its Disney+ debut and, most immediately, the sound is a major upgrade.

Also, although I’m not the best judge of picture quality since I’m legally blind, it looked great to me.

I first saw “Let It Be” in mid-May 1970, and I didn’t find it depressing then or now, especially after it ended with the Jan. 31 filmed session of them doing “Two of Us,” “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be,” and the rooftop performance from the day before.

As for the one little bit of tension between Paul McCartney and George Harrison, which can be seen in fuller context in “Get Back,” it doesn’t make this a movie about The Beatles breaking up. It never was about that, and it’s not now.

That said, the original film is choppy, with virtually no context provided. But that’s the way rock documentaries were made back then — seen “Gimme Shelter” or “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” lately?

Still, a casual observer who really doesn’t know The Beatles’ story and never has seen either this or “Get Back” is going to need some crib notes to know what’s going on.

Why are they on a movie studio soundstage and then suddenly in a small studio? Who’s the Black guy behind the keyboard who materializes out of nowhere, and who’s that little girl in attendance?

Obviously, Peter Jackson had a much larger palette to work from in painting his conceptual picture of the band at work in “Get Back,” but the uninitiated are going to be bewildered during “Let It Be,” until that wonderful last third of the film.

As for other tropes that have grown up around “Let It Be” through the years, if you saw “Get Back,” you know that Yoko Ono wasn’t a disruptive presence during the sessions and Paul wasn’t as domineering as decades of revisionist history have made people think.

The restored “Let It Be” is basically as it was in 1970, save for the sound-picture upgrades, a Peter Jackson-Michael Lindsay-Hogg chat as a prelude, and a different ending, with session outtakes over the credits.

It’s not in widescreen, so the rooftop session does look better in “Get Back.” And the street-level reaction scenes intercut into the rooftop performance are still there, as they were in “Get Back.” If you have a problem with that, don’t watch it.

Besides, the reaction scenes are part of the story of that performance, and they belong in any film version of it. If you just want the music, Spotify and Apple Music have fine audio packages of the rooftop session.

And, please, spare us months of bed-wetting over whether/when a physical version of the restored film will be released. Disney+ has had “Hamilton” for a couple of years and there’s never been a video release of that. We’ve already had to endure months of whining about the video release of “Get Back” not having any special features. For “Let It Be,” let’s just wait and see.

Finally, in answer to the question of why we still need “Let It Be” when we have “Get Back,” the original film deserves a reissue of some kind, despite its limitations, because of its place in “the story” of The Beatles, and because it contains material that Jackson chose not to use in “Get Back.”

Al Sussman