Yesterday, filmmaker Peter Jackson — the guy who made those lavish, but incredibly long, Lord of the Rings movies — announced his next project, and it’s pretty intriguing. Jackson has been given access to more than 50 hours of never before seen footage shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg during the Beatles’ recording sessions that ultimately were used to produce the album Let It Be. Jackson will be using the footage to produce what is, in effect, a remake of the documentary that was released in 1970.
Beatles fans know the prevailing story: the band went into the studio to record a new album that was originally going to be called Get Back, because the idea was for the band to get back to its rock ‘n roll roots, with Billy Preston playing along on keyboards. After some initial highlights — including an impromptu concert on the rooftop of Apple Corps that happened 50 years ago yesterday, and was the last time the Beatles performed live in public — the album effort supposedly ground down in a maze of acrimony and dissension that presaged a group on the edge of a final break-up. The effort was shelved, and months Phil Spector was enlisted to produce something out of the recordings. Let It Be then emerged in 1970 — a combination of some great, quasi-live recordings, classics like the song Let It Be, and awful, overproduced Spector versions of songs like The Long and Winding Road. Let It Be would be the last original Beatles’ album to be released (with Abbey Road being the last album the Beatles recorded);
That’s the story we’ve heard, and it was largely framed by the 1970 film that emphasized the tension and dissension, but Jackson suggests that it’s not the true story. He’s watched the unseen footage, and listened to more than a hundred hours of the audio tapes from the recording sessions, and he says: “It’s like a time machine transports us back to 1969, and we get to sit in the studio watching these four friends make great music together.” He added: “Sure, there are moments of drama, but none of the discord this project has long been associated with. Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo work together, creating now-classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating – it’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate.”
It’s hard to imagine that there is much new to be learned about the Beatles — they are clearly among the most loved, photographed, analyzed, and psychoanalyzed musical and cultural figures in history — but this unreleased footage may help to alter the storyline. I’ll be heading to the theater to watch the result. These days, how often do you have the opportunity to watch musical legends at work, in their prime?