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Exclusive Book Excerpt: 'Let It Be' Director on Strife Within the Beatles

Read part two of Michael Lindsay-Hogg's account of the making of the band's last film

October 4, 2011 12:50 PM ET
1966 beatles micahel lindsay hogg rain
'Luck and Circumstance' by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
Courtesy Michael Lindsay-Hogg/Random House

'Luck and Circumstance,' the memoir by acclaimed director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, was published by Alfred A. Knopf on September 27th. In it are behind-the-scenes glimpses of Old Hollywood and Swinging Sixties London, stories from the golden age of BBC British drama and an intimate look at the pre-dawn of rock video, a genre that Lindsay-Hogg pioneered if not outright created.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg directed videos with The Rolling Stones for fifteen years, starting with Jumpin' Jack Flash, and also their fabled Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. He also directed videos for The Beatles, including Revolution and Hey Jude, as well as their last film, the documentary 'Let It Be.'

Here is the second part of an exclusive excerpt from 'Luck and Circumstance' about the making of that film. Read part one, about tension in the group at the outset of filming, here.

I had heard of an amphitheater on the coast of Tunisia and had the notion that The Beatles would start at dawn plugging in their amps and setting up the drum kit in this place where the stone had been beveled by the sand of centuries. Then they'd start to play, and, song by song, the music would float across the land, and, like traveling to an enlarged Noah's Ark, not by twos but by fours and then scores, people would come to the music, and what better music could there be? Men, women, children would come, on foot, camel, jeep; black, white, Arab; and by nightfall, the ancient steps would be full of the world.

The idea caught on. John and Yoko were for it and Paul, very much. Ringo said maybe it could work. John suggested we hire a small ocean liner so we could bring some of the audience with us, the English contingent. Yes, Paul said. They'd rehearse on the boat, and I'd film it for the documentary. Reservations were made for Mal and Neil to fly to Tunisia to check out the location, the hotels, and security problems. We were on our way to something fabulous and were, most of us, excited.

George had been silent during these discussions, moodily plucking on his guitar.

His position was a difficult one. He didn't want them to perform in public again; it had all gotten too crazy. I saw one of their final public appearances at a theater in London. The screaming was so loud, the balcony shaking, that they couldn't hear themselves play and had abandoned the show after a song or two. George just wanted to make an album and felt his position within the group wasn't as valued as his talent should demand. He'd been the youngest, fifteen, when Paul was sixteen and John seventeen, and, the story was, he'd carry the guitar cases as the other two strode ahead, discussing their great plans. And also, probably, he wasn't happy with the traditional album shake- out, artistically or financially. If there were twelve tracks, say, nine would probably be Len/Mac, another with Ringo, and two by George. And George knew he was soon to stake his claim to be his own man, a unique musician, passionate, tender, and ironic.

During the early days of what became Let It Be, the movie, Paul and George would squabble, John and Yoko would be in their own world, and Ringo would observe. By "observe," I mean no lack of regard for the position of one of the great rock 'n' roll drummers.

With a couple of notable exceptions, drummers are not usually committed songwriters and so are somewhat removed from the fractiousness and rivalry of the guitars and vocalists, which is usually where the songs come from. And also, of course, they sit behind the others on a rostrum, the perfect place from which to observe, and sometimes to provide the cooler counseling head. Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones is the greatest exemplar of this. He has been the glue of the Rolling Stones for almost fifty years.

At Twickenham, The Beatles, Yoko, and I, often joined by our cameraman Tony Richmond, would have a proper lunch in the small dining room up a flight of stairs, adjoining a bar where some crew members and studio office workers would be sinking their couple of pints of beer before going off to their own lunch.

Macrobiotic for John and Yoko, a roast and chips for some of the others, and usually an omelet or fish for me. When one day I ordered a steak, John and Yoko, who had previously regarded me as something of a dietary ally, looked at the piece of meat on my plate, and then at me, as though I'd let them down, although I think I caught in John's eye a slight hint of meat envy.

The Beatles would talk about how uneasy they were about money. They'd made millions, but because of some dodgy deals or bad advice, or sums which were uncollected or had been siphoned off by foreign distributors, they felt financially things were out of control. They'd opened Apple, first as a bargain clothing store and then the company based in Savile Row, where inventors or dreamers or scammers would come in and say they needed money for this or that scheme and be financed and often not seen again. The Beatles felt they were hemorrhaging money. They knew they could continue to make it with their music but were trying to control the flow because, amongst other things, they all had large houses, grand Rolls- Royces and Mercedes, customized Minis (though Paul often traveled by underground), and a regular need for cash.

George was usually with us, joining in the conversation, affable and friendly and interested in the give- and- take, but on the day of the Tunisian discussion, he wasn't with us as the meal started. At the morning rehearsal, I could tell by his silence and withdrawal that something was simmering inside him, and so in my role as documentarian, I'd asked our soundman to bug the flower pot on the lunch table.

We'd finished the first course when George arrived to stand at the end of the table.

We looked at him as he stood silent for a moment.

"See you 'round the clubs," he said.

That was his good-bye. He left.

John, a person who reacted aggressively to provocation, immediately said, "Let's get in Eric. He's just as good and not such a headache."

Paul and Ringo would not be drawn in, and after lunch we went back to the studio where Paul, John, and Ringo improvised a ferocious riff, half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums. Yoko sat on the edge of the rostrum on the blue cushion which had been George's and howled into his mike.

(My bug had only picked up the sounds of cutlery banging on china plates, obscuring what the muffled voices had said.)

From the book, 'Luck and Circumstance' by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Copyright (c) 2011 Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Published by Alfred A. Knopf.

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