Four Stars in Search of a Universe.
In the flak between George and Paul, John, enigmatic, and profoundly humorous, traces out a cosmic anti-world of puns:
John: It's a feeling . . . it's enough to make a haggis grow legs; but tonight we'll celebrate on Irish Whiskey, said Gene Pitney, the only Sassenach in the group.
Ringo, who is given a token appearance in Let It Be singing "Octopus' Garden" and a boogie duet with Paul, maintains his deadpan humor and dignity throughout. Derek Taylor once described Ringo as miscast in most of the films he has appeared in because "his genius is as a silent actor." And he bears this out beautifully in the sequence where Heather crashes down on his drum kit and his whole body jangles in a flip-flop mime of taken-unawares.
His long suffering face allows him to play a straightman with quizzical intensity to John's ventriloquist:
John: Bognor Regis is a tartan that covers Yorkshire. Rutland is the smallest country. Scarborough is a college scarf . . . And still the boon wasn't over, the Queen of Sheba wore falsies.
Ringo: I didn't know that.
John: Didn't you know that? You weren't there at the time. Cleopatra was a carpet manufacturer.
Ringo: I didn't know that.
John: John Lennon . . .
Ringo: A patriot.
John: I didn't know that.
George rephrases the universe in mystical homilies ("anywhere is paradise") and Paul, who's always "on" (a wink is as good as a nod) can never resist the temptation to play himself. When his head fills the screen, singing the title song on "Let It Be," his face flashes between tramp and old testament prophet, but it never quite sticks, because he is always a little too sentimental to be believable.
As the unedited tapes run on and on, fragments of their lives fill in a fraction. They watch a lot of "telly": Late Nite Line-Up on BBC-2, Spike Milligan, science fiction; "I, Me, Mine," in fact, is based on a tune played by an Austrian marching band that George was watching late one night.
Images of Broken Light
Visually, Let It Be is as beautiful as the sum of its accidents: its unbelievable grainy color (generated from 16mm originals) washes about the screen in the Twickenham sequences like video rainbows, giving each his own aura: white for John, purple for Paul, mantra orange for George, and red for Ringo. At times it's like the Beatles in the land of Silver Surfer, especially in one sequence where George, in yellow and brown (and grainy as Dakota), sems to drift in and out of the rust background like a speckled trout.
The camera moves in and out as blindly and perceptively as coincidence itself, picking up with insect eye: fuzz on a microphone while John intones "Across The Universe"; Paul's fingers touching their reflection in the glazed piano board; George's face, pale as wax with downcast eyes, as his guitar gently weeps; Heather rushing into the studio and homing in on a gloppy painting of a flower by Zak, pinned on Ringo's wall-board; and John warbling shrilly as a sparrow on "Two Of Us."
But as often as the lens picks up the beautiful moments of the Beatles together, it misses others that beg to be recorded, and occasionally it blunders into crass word-image links that are just embarrassing. On "Dig It," the camera zooms to Billy Preston as John sings "B. B. King . . ." (they're both spades, dig it?) and to Heather on "Doris Day . . ."
Outside, the oblique light reflects from Ringo's orange mac like molten lava and everything looks like it was shot on a set from Mary Poppins. Old men in macs and sweaters gather around like out-of-work miners at the entrance of a colliery. The moments are precious, they know they will soon have to move, and in a gesture of devotion, Peter Asher kneels before John with lyrics on a sheet of paper.
While, in the end, all we have to relate to are the soft, luminous images of Let It Be, the Beatles will insist, like the characters in Pirandello's Six Characters In Search Of An Author that "the play is in us, sir!" Their voices on magnetic tape, buried in some vault, will always be ready to re-enact their drama, and only they know its true intensity:
Paul (in disembodied voice): The awful tension of being locked in each other's arms snapped last night at TV rehearsal, and Beatles John, George and Harold . . . A few vicious phrases took place.
John: He, the mystical one who lost so much of the Beatles' magic, she the nudie . . .
Paul: It's only the suddenness of their decline from the status of boys next door to the category of weirdies . . .
John (singing drowns out words):
Early in the morning
I'm giving you the warning
Don't you step on my blue suede
Paul: It would be about the middle of the 1960s (next few words inaudible) began to have a few spots of rust. I would deliberately read Ringo out of it, because he never developed any fetish towards the bizarre. Lennon was married happily. McCartney was going steady and George Harrison was about to marry. Everything in the Beatle garden was rosy. But that was a long time ago. Having scaled every known peak of show business the Beatles quite deliberately . . . . never came home again. They went their own private way, found their own friends and became less reliant on each other for guidance and comradeship . . .
(singing drowns out speech)
Early in the evening
I'm giving you the feeling
And nothing to lose.
Paul: Today all of them find acute embarrassment at the stories of one another's adventures and conduct. Harrison's escapades with his favourite mystic from India . . .
Hold my baby as tight as I can
Tonight she's gonna be a big
Oh baby with your rhythm and
Everybody's rockin tonight.
(singer and speaker trying to drown each other out)
Paul: Drugs, divorce, and slipping image play desperately on their minds and it appeared to them all that the public was being encouraged to hate them . . . capacity to earn is largely tied up in their performances as a group and until they are either rich enough . . .
(music drowns out voice)
. . . irrevocably doomed . . . all over . . . they will never be exactly the same again.
This story is from the July 9th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.
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