The Beatles Let It Be footage is getting back where it once belonged. Peter Jackson, who is fresh off the World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, will apply the same restorative techniques for a new documentary using 55 hours of unseen footage from the 1970 feature film to recreate a new, happier verson of the Beatles’ breakup movie Let It Be.
The original film was slated to show the band in the studio recording an overdub-free, live in the studio album which went on to be the over-overdubbed Grammy Award-winning album Let It Be produced by Phil Spector. It turned out to capture a band in the final throes of disintegration.
“The 55 hours of never-before-seen footage and 140 hours of audio made available to us, ensures this movie will be the ultimate ‘fly on the wall’ experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about – 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,” Jackson said in a statement via The Hollywood Reporter. “I was relieved to discover the reality is very different to the myth.”
“After reviewing all the footage and audio that Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot 18 months before they broke up, it’s simply an amazing historical treasure-trove,” Jackson continued. “Sure, there’s 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.”
Paul McCartney previously hinted that a Let It Be restoration project was in the works. The album was originally set to be called “Get Back,” with the Beatles recording entirely live and the film was to end in a live performance in from the band. The final film showed a band at odds with each other but the new footage will also show how much fun they had recording.
“I think there may be a new version of it,” McCartney told Canada’s Radio X last fall. “The original movie came out and it was really sort of about the break-up of the Beatles. And so for me, it was a little sad, the movie. But I know people are looking at the 56 hours of footage. And someone was talking the other day to me and said (that) the overall feeling is very joyous and very uplifting. It’s like a bunch of guys making music and enjoying it, you know.”
McCartney didn’t mention the film would be directed by Jackson, who is probably best known for his Lord of the Rings films. The Beatles had been approached to star in a motion picture adaptation of Tolkien’s books while they were on meditational retreat in India, but passed on the project.
“I’m thrilled and honoured to have been entrusted with this remarkable footage – making the movie will be a sheer joy,” Jackson concluded.
British director Michael Edward Lindsay-Hogg originally planned to use the footage for a television special before The Beatles used the 1970 documentary to complete their contractual film obligations.
Shot a little more than a year before their breakup, the original Let It Be came out on on VHS and laserdisc but has long been out of circulation. It was restored for a planned DVD reissue in the early 2000s, but never came to pass.
Let It Be was shot in 16mm. Jackson, his producer Clare Olssen and editor Jabez Olssen will take the footage to Park Road Post in New Zealand to apply the same techniques that brought the hundred-year old footage to vivid life for the film They Shall Not Grow Old.
There is no word yet on whether there will be an audio boxed set to go along with the film, but a Let It Be super deluxe edition is rumored to follow a 2019 50th anniversary edition of the band’s swan song Abbey Road.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.