SECTION TWO

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COLUMN SIXTY-NINE, MARCH 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

RETROPOP SCENE:
'LET IT BE,' THE MOVIE


(Photo by Linda McCartney from her book, "SIXTIES, Portrait of an Era")

The least that can be said for the movie, Let It Be, is that it gives you a chance to spend 90 minutes with the Beatles.  If that's not enough, you can stay and see the movie twice.  It's been almost seven years now since John, Paul, George and Ringo started living their lives In public and they've learned not only how to function while constantly being watched, but how to function and still make people want to keep on watching them.

Does it make any difference to a Beatle that there happens to be a movie camera in the room?  After you get used to one pair of eyes studying how you pick your nose, the next hundred million pairs of eyes come easy.

Of course it would be simple to criticize the Beatles for not offering more for the money than just themselves.  Unfettered by any script, uncomplicated by any plot, Let it Be offers the kind of structure you get when you start to pile one kindergarten block on top of another.  You reach a point where, if you add one more, the whole construction tumbles.

It was shot In 16 millimeter with little more premeditation than anyone would need to take home movies.  Vaguely, the Beatles thought, it might turn into a television film.  Now we see it in first-run movie houses grossing more than a million dollars in 14 days.  The negative only cost $120,000.

Aren't the Beatles entitled to get paid for being such public figures?  In Let It Be, we see them in a recording studio.  There is nothing more tedious in music than the long hours spent in a recording studio.  Then we see them in a live performance on the roof of Apple.  A live performance on the roof of Apple?

They blow steam into the chill London winter.  John rubs his hands to warm them for his guitar.  He has to perform in a coat.  So does George.  The drum is nailed down in the wrong place. The police come to serve a noise complaint.  John forgets a lyric and grins into the camera as he sings a dummy line of gibberish.  A mob gathers in the streets below.  Crowds accumulate on neighboring rooftops.  The sound, only adequately recorded on a Nagra, is distorted in the wind.  And then the movie's over.

If it sounds like a bomb, it's got an awful long fuse.  See it a few times and you'll find it grows rather than wears on you.  The Beatles have more to sell than their privacy, or haven't you heard?  Let It Be is not just a documentary, it's a spectacular show.  And in addition to being a show, it also becomes a drama.  Who among you will walk in to see it not knowing how it fits into the saga of the Beatles?

When the picture opens, John has already abdicated his leadership of the group to pursue his love for Yoko. She sits constantly at his side in the midst of the four of them.  John kisses her passionately, and then dances with her to I, Me, Mine, a song that George describes as "a heavy waltz." In the meantime, you see the tensions unfold on the screen as Paul unsuccessfully tries to assume the leadership.

He lectures John on why the Beatles should play audiences.  He makes fun of the way they all behaved in Rishikesh with the Maharishi. He tells them to quit fooling around or "we'll be here all bloody day." He tries to be a nice guy about it but, in one of the most revealing moments of the film, he also comes down hard on George.

There is a musical disagreement between the two of them and you can see the embarrassment as Paul leans forward trying to escape the microphone, almost whispering, "I always feel as though I'm annoying ya ... I'm not trying to get


'I'll, play whatever
you want me to play
or I won't play at all. . .'


ya, but really I'm trying to say. . ." George reacts with emotion at so public an attack.

"I'll, play whatever you want me to play or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play," he answers.  "I'll do anything that will please you." In the theater, the audience breaks into laughter.

Actually, George quit after that episode and for the next few days, the cameras focused on his empty chair.  Producer Neil Aspinall later cut the empty chair from the film to preserve its tightness, but still the movie remains straightforward and uncompromising in its exposure of these four musical lives. 

Of course Paul emerges the star of the film, whether hero or anti-hero, disheveled and bearded with a bruise on his, lip from a bike accident, playing bass, piano, acoustical guitar, conducting, directing and singing most of the songs. Nothing the others do seems to satisfy him.  Not that he doesn't make any sense.

"It's complicated now," he tells the others at one point.  "If we can get it simpler and then complicate it. . ."

In the theater it's another laugh.  On the screen, the tension builds. When Paul loses interest during a rehearsal of John singing Dig a Pony, John suddenly stops.

"Has anybody got a fast one?" he says.

As for the songs, there are plenty of them, although they're all in bits and pieces until the Beatles finally get onto the Apple rooftop.  It's been years since anyone saw the Beatles perform live and this is the closest you probably will come to seeing them perform live for years more.  The magic is still there, and you don't have to witness it from the top tier of some ballpark, even if it is only on film.

They sing Get Back, Don't Let Me Down, Long and Winding Road, Let It Be, and a good few others, including The Two of Us, which may as well be the story of John and Paul.

As the song, says, they have memories now longer than the road that stretches out ahead.  ##

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