Your Toast in My Mirror or, The Grogan at the Breakfast Table.
The unedited Let It Be, running to some 800 hours of film (including footage from all four cameras at Twickenham and on the roof) will perhaps someday be donated to the National Trust, where scholars will delve into its meaning. In its totality it is a monster document, revealing, in the same sense as studies of scientists isolated in bathyspheres for months at a time are revealing, and the slouch of a body cast in plaster that takes several hours to set. It manifests the idiosyncracies, blemishes, acts of vision and churlishness, the patterns and postures that the Beatles put themselves through while relating to each other and to their public images. The released version can reveal little of this.
Although the premise of the film at its inception was Warholian in the sense that you just turn the cameras on for two months and let it be, the end product is considerably more structured. For one thing, time will not allow what could have been a whole movie in itself, namely, the Beatles creating, working on, refining, and finally distilling one song, with peripheral dialogue, old rock, and general studio habits. Instead we have a series of about twenty songs flashing by with occasional "representative" dialogue. This is not to denigrate the quiet, unassuming, even magical moments which Let It Be captures, as when the music always ends discussion, each Beatle submitting to it, John and George finally understanding each other in "Dig It" or "For You Blue." But it is a sleight of hand (as John says, "Bognor Regis is a tartan that covers Yorkshire") that presents us with this condensation of moments into an illusion of a day in the life. The structure of the film as we see it gives the impression of elation, partly by the very physical progression of scenes from Act I in the murky sublunar atmosphere of Twickenham (rainbows on rainbows) through the intimacy of the Apple sessions and finally, the four evangelists emerging onto the roof to air, lights, and the birth of spring. (The roof sequence was shot at the beginning of February.)
What dialogue there is in Let It Be suggests we could still be in some snug, day-to-day corner of Pepperland. The order of the day is cheerfulness (Paul: "Hi, lads." John: "Queen says no to pot smoking F.B.I. members.") Just the lads getting together for a bash. But, in the light of subsequent Beatle traumas, the illusion must seem somewhat false. The doubts about their being able to perform again in public, and the threatening clouds that were to break into open hostility with the release of Paul's album, are scarcely touched upon. In Let It Be we are given a glimpse of group friction (for the sake of realism), a dialogue between Paul and George which hits on one of the main contentions between them: none of them wants to be session men for the others. Paul: "I always seem to be annoying you . . ." George: "All right, I'll play whatever you want me to play, or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play."
In another sequence, Paul talks earnestly to John ("now look, son") about how they can get it on, if they want to. But, because this is not cinema verite but a documentary made by the Beatles themselves, the emphasis is quite naturally not on the tensions. It is one of the paradoxes of reverence that we always wish to know the most intimate details of those we idolize, even when the details are not flattering, and for this reason Let It Be is not a completely satisfying film. It presents an "as if" situation that any fairly observant Beatle fan knows does not exist. And, again, it is just this insatiable curiosity, like the probing eye of the camera, staring like a mirror at their every action that has magnified their rifts and sealed their quarrels. Paul: "I get the horrors every morning about 9:00 when I get my toast and tea."
Daddy Has Gone Away Now . . .
One of the strangest phenomena in group situations is who will be "it," who will carry the weight, and here it is Paul, assuming the spectral role of Brian Epstein:
Paul: I mean we've been very negative since Mr. Epstein passed away. That's why. We haven't been positive. That's why all of us in turn have been sick of the group, you know. There's nothing positive in it. It is a bit of a drag. It's like when you're growing up and then your daddy goes away at a certain point in your life and then you stand on your own feet. Daddy has gone away now, you know, and we are on our own little holiday camp. You know, I think we either go home or we do it. It's discipline we need. It's like everything you do, you never had discipline. Mr. Epstein, he said, sort of "Get suits on" and we did. And so we were always fighting that discipline a bit. But now it's silly to fight that discipline if it's our own. It's self-imposed these days, so we do as little as possible. But I think we need a bit more if we are going to get on with it.
If Paul is elected to play "daddy" (and he has grown a beard to play the role), then George gets to play the bad boy, and his answer to Paul is, "Well, if that's what doing it is, I don't want to do anything."
Paul comes across as desperately trying to pull the whole thing together, like the father of a family that has become divided ("it's silly for us at this point to crack up"), while George, with a mixture of apathy and mysticism, appears not to care one way or the other, business versus pleasure:
Paul: We should organize our career now. Like the idea is to get us so we quite enjoy this . . . then what would you like to do next? Would you like to do a live show, lads?
George: It's like hard work really to do it. It's a drag 'cos I don't wanna work really . . . have to get up at 8:00 and get into my guitar . . . "You've got to play your guitar now" and you're not ready for it. But we've got to do that in order to get the goods in . . .
Paul carries the weight, and like an over-serious foster parent occasionally trips over George's punky put-ons:
George: You dig, baby?
George: You're so full of shit, man.
George: Before you can pry any secrets from me, first you must find the real me. Which one will you pursue . . . Did you see that?
George: The Beard.
George: It's Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid in eternity. It's just the idea of two people on stage and all this audience of different people overhearing what they're saying. Jean Harlow says: "Before you can pry any secrets from me, first you must find the real me. Which one will you pursue?" It ends where she just sits on his knee, and then she sits in the chair and spreads her legs.
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