Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Let It Be (1970) - You Have to See this Film!!

Let It Be poster
"Let It Be" (1970).

I've never seen such twaddle written about a film as I have in reviews of "Let It Be." Please, throw out everything you have heard about it and just see it. If you like good music, you will be glad you did.

The film is a chronicle of The Beatles' recording session for their "Let It Be" album. There is no phony storyline, it is cinema verite of a fairly straightforward recording session (by the premier band ever, with all the trappings). And yes, the band did break up down the road, eventually, and for that matter John got shot and George died of cancer. But, no, this session is not "sad" and does not show "the breakup." That is all 20-20 hindsight related to the fact that the group finally did break up around the time the film was released. In fact, the boys, obviously after a lengthy layoff, gradually get back into things over the course of the film and by the end of the creative process are once more musical dynamite.

Let It Be John Lennon Paul McCartney
John, Paul, George, Ringo, George... and Yoko.

Perhaps you have been on a sports team, or in a drama production, or some other group endeavor in school. You reach a fine pitch of performance at the end of the year, then break for summer. You come back the next year and, rusty and out of practice, just don't have the same teamwork as you did at the end of the previous year. There are petty squabbles and lots of sour notes amid traces of the brilliance that once was. But you work and work and work through the year, and finally get it all back. That is EXACTLY what this film is about. Paul is like the coach who is up to speed while the players are all out of shape, but he pushes and prods to get them up to speed. In the end, they are all back in rhythm together again.

There are some fascinating vignettes that I have to point out. This film established Yoko in the public mind as a kind of Satanic figure. She sits in the corner, never smiling, almost frowning whenever John looks like he's having fun. As a public relations effort, it was a disaster for her. Since Paul was behind the film, that kind of makes you think a bit....

Another fascinating aspect is the reaction of the locals to the rooftop concert. You had staid banker types, pipes clenched in teeth, climbing on rooftops to get a good look and listen. Others, in the street, mumbled about how the boys were "good people." The crowd is almost reverent in its expressions. You don't get THAT kind of reaction too often to a performance. The Beatles reached right across generational lines, to the old as much as to the young. No, that is not too common nowadays, either.

Let It Be The Beatles

The high point of this film begins not at the famous rooftop concert, but right before it. Back-to-back, out of nowhere after all the fumbling rehearsals, suddenly we get two perfect, crystal-clear music videos of Paul singing "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road" (better than the released versions imho). George and John are grinning as they add the background vocals, Ringo taking the occasional drag on a cigarette. Then, having satisfied themselves that they have recaptured the magic, the boys emerge from their bunker onto the Apple Corps rooftop to shout to the world, "We're back and better than ever!" There also is an element of the renegade in this coming out party, with John at last showing the liveliness for which he was famous as the group rather audaciously decides to wake the old town up. What garage band hasn't wanted to just climb on the roof and let it rip? Every single one of them was having a blast, maybe Paul in particular because finally the others had caught up to him and were making the contributions to the effort for which he had been waiting.

Let It Be Billboard

The final song, "Get Back," is simply brilliant. Sung by Paul while the cops were waiting patiently to, what, arrest them? He spits out lines like "she's gonna have you ARRESTED" like a madman while everybody looks over their shoulders at the men in black helmets. Sure, it was all staged, but so what? If that isn't one of the coolest scenes in film, I don't know what is. Check out the ending of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (those guys were HUGE Beatles fans) to see a send-up of this ending.

You still want to insist that the film "shows the breakup of the Beatles"? Uh, no, I don't think so. "Abbey Road," which came after this and was the culmination of the Beatles legend, put the lie to that forever. If you really pay attention, this film instead shows The Beatles at their essence, brilliance with the genius touch of the renegade. Just musicians, doing their thing better than anyone else.


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