The Making of The 'Let It Be' Film: Daddy Has Gone Away Now

The fights, the egos, and the behind-the-scenes decisions surrounding the making of the Beatles' last film and album

The Beatles
Jim Gray/Keystone/Getty Images

The idea for a Beatles film came about towards the end of 1968 when Apple was still a kind of nucleus for the group. Some of the Utopian schemes had already been abandoned. The film division was dispensed with as unnecessary, and the electronics division under the supervision of Alexis Mardas, who had promised such miracles as a force field around Paul McCartney's house and a recording technique that would defy bootlegging and baffle illicit broadcasting of Beatles material, had dwindled to a little plastic apple with a transistor radio inside. Earlier in the year Apple Fashions, the projected spearhead of a Beatles retail empire, had folded and Paul had stopped talking about Apple as "a western form of Communism" and as a "huge commercial/creative complex along the lines of British Petroleum."

Apple's attempts to integrate the Beatles' own personal aspirations with the mechanics of business was proving a fruitless task. As if in evidence of the gulf, you could find Derek Taylor in his third floor office pacifying all manner of creative freaks, journalists, dope-fiends, hustlers, and West Coast expatriates, while on another floor Peter Brown, in his meticulous office, was intoning: "At Apple we are only interested in ideas that will make us a million dollars a day." It was like a labyrinth trying to communicate with itself.

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As things got worse, Derek, with his sense of the absurd ("Being born in Scotland carries with it certain responsibilities"), asked Alan Aldridge to redesign the Apple stationery (a peeling apple with the legend "words from Apple") to a peeling pear with the legend "lies from Apple."

In this atmosphere it is amazing that the film got together at all. Neil Aspinall decided the best place to shoot the movie would be at Twickenham studios, where Peter Sellers was shooting The Magic Christian. Ringo did not want to go away on location because of his involvement in the Sellers' movie. The atmosphere at the time, influenced by John Wesley Harding, was a return to simplicity (hence the original title: Get Back.) And after all, it was the easiest thing to do anyway. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg told them where it was at:

Lindsay-Hogg: Well I think one of those things that's wrong about doing the show here is that it's too easy. Like when we are in the car looking for locations and glorified boutiques, I think that's wrong. But just doing it in the backyard. I mean it's literal. It's almost your backyard. Twickenham. There's no balls to the show at all. I mean there's no balls in any of us, I'm included, and that's why I think we are being soft about it. You are the Beatles; you aren't four jerks. You know what I mean.

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Things as They Are, As a Dream. As They Are as a Dream.
Paul: It bugs me when they zoom in and out. I'd like it to be like an old movie. If you want to say anything, you walk up to the camera. The only thing that doesn't need to move is the camera. It's like oriental medicine and western medicine. We prescribe for the symptoms: they are into preventing it. It's like a switch – get us to do the movement.

Ringo: I'd like it like a country programme where you have one camera, just step in and do your bit, like on the Grand Ol' Opry, Flatt and Scruggs; they'd all move in when their solo came around and take the center so they acted out the shots.

Paul: Dreaming in public is the thing. You know those dreams where you go down a Helter Skelter? And the scene changes? But doing that awake. The latest thing from Apple!

So, in January, 1969, the Beatles spent over 100 hours playing, arguing, rapping, rehearsing in the Twickenham Film Studios, the Apple studio, and on the Apple roof. The film, like the long-awaited album, was first titled Get Back, but someone must have realized that after one year of getting back – the film still in the editing room – the best recourse, aside from going forward (which the Beatles did with Abbey Road), was just to let it be. The film comes to us in its own good time. If A Hard Day's Night portrayed the Beatles' "real life" image as fiction, and if Yellow Submarine embodied that image mythically, Let It Be documents a few moments of the Beatles together "awake" and "for real."

We only get a few moments because with 300 hours of footage, only the highlights, the more dramatic scenes, and the funnier dialogue are shown. Obviously, most of the original footage is filled up with shots of the Beatles tuning up, running through "Don't Let Me Down" for the fortieth time, off-mike huddles, etc. One misses scenes like the one in which Paul tells how he originally wrote "Get Back" as a political song:

Don't dig no Pakistanis takin' all the
people's jobs
Wilson said to the immigrants
You'd better get back to your Commonwealth homes
Yeh-yeh-yeh you'd better get Back

We also miss the monotonies, the lackluster workaday yawns, of four people who know each other too well. So if Yoko Ono seems unenthusiastic and listless in Let It Be, just imagine sitting through 30 hours of takes and re-takes. Playing and shooting over and over is the context from which Let It Be extrapolates its images. Finally, too, one misses the enormous number of Fifties rock and roll classics which the Beatles slipped into – putting them on in the playful and always elegant way that they perform "You're Really Got A Hold On Me" in Let It Be for example.

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