UPDATED: The Case for the Restored ‘Let It Be’

UPDATED: 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

More on ‘Let It Be’ …

Here’s another fan’s view of the restored version of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film. …

Beatlefan reader Mark Helfrich got to see a preview of work on the restored version of “Let It Be” last year and told us about it at the time.

“The original director of photography, Tony Richmond, oversaw the color restoration,” Helfrich said then, adding that “the film looks better than it ever has, and to my eyes, superior to the amazing job Peter Jackson did on ‘Get Back.’ The reason why is this is the actual film we’re seeing — it has film grain. Sure, it’s been cleaned up, meaning there’s no film scratches or dirt, but the clarity is there — you can see the pores and hairs on their faces!”

After the restored film debuted on Disney+ in May, we heard again from Helfrich about differences between what he saw in 2023 and what is streaming now.

Helfrich said that, based on what he saw on Disney+ and what he has read, he believes that sometime after he previewed the film last year, Jackson’s digital restoration team added some digital “softening” to the movie’s images.

“Thankfully, they didn’t go nearly as far as Jackson did with ‘Get Back,’” Helfrich said, but “contrary to what I reported last year, this release’s visual is not simply the film cleaned up and color restored with the most modern tools, which is a pity because it looked so great.

A shot of Tony Richmond during the filming of “Let It Be.” (Ethan Russell/Apple Corps Ltd.)

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy ‘Let It Be’ is once again available and looks and sounds wonderful — but it isn’t presenting a restored film look anymore. There are content differences too — of course, the United Artists logos aren’t there anymore, and the black barn-door transition wipes between Twickenham and Apple, and between the Apple studio and the roof no longer exist. 

“And the film doesn’t end with a freeze frame and ‘The End’ in Beatles font while Paul riffs over ‘Get Back’ anymore.

“Now, we have no freeze frame, just a cut to black for a bunch of credits for the 1970 and 2024 versions over an ‘Oh! Darling’ take and other session tunes, which is fine. The sound is so superior to the original it’s a definite improvement (with a bonus “fuckin’ hell” from George!). 

“So overall the rerelease is phenomenal, but I wish Apple would’ve just let it be the pure FILM restoration without Jacksonizing it.”

From the conversation between Peter Jackson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg. (Disney+)

Helfrich also noted that “surprisingly, the conversation between Peter Jackson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg which precedes the film, has been badly re-edited since I saw it last year, too. 

“Now, it is very disjointed, as if they are not talking to each other — just soundbites which don’t really flow. And the bit about Jackson calling ‘Let It Be’ really the fourth part of ‘Get Back’ is gone. 

“Granted, it was longer than its current length of 4:30, but it was better before. Maybe when it’s released on Blu-ray they will include the longer version.”

We pointed out to Helfrich that Disney and Apple say that Jackson went back to the original 16mm film negative for his digital restoration.

Helfrich’s response: “It may be that Jackson’s company did the scanning and cleaning of the 16mm negative, and then that was color corrected, supervised by Tony Richmond,” who got a credit in the Disney streaming version.

Helfrich suggested that perhaps after Richmond worked on the color “perhaps further ‘adjustments’ were made to the look of the film back in Jackson’s camp. That may be why there is a VFX supervisor, a VFX production mManager and four VFX artists listed in the credits.

In any case, Helfrich said, “what I saw, copyrighted 2023, isn’t what’s out in the copyrighted 2024 version.”


Finally, Beatlefan contributor Jim Trawicki had a brief email exchange with “Let It Be” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg in mid-May that provides a couple of footnotes to the history of the film.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Disney+)

Trawicki had read that Lindsay-Hogg’s original cut of the film that he showed to The Beatles, before it was trimmed for its 1970 theatrical release, ran 210 minutes, and he asked the director whether that cut is still around anywhere in any form and whether it might it be issued at some time.

Lindsay-Hogg replied:

“Jim, the first rough cut I showed them was maybe 100-110 minutes. Never near 210. 

“And no, alas, [the trims were] just chopped out and put back in the bins. 

“So, the current version is, cut for cut, what was released in 1970.”

Lindsay-Hogg added: “It’s hard to believe how primitive it was when you were cutting on film — a sharp knife and scotch tape and unless you had a dupe made, nothing was saved, not like now where you can save cut after cut on the machine.”