Michael Lindsay-Hogg interviewed: “Let It Be was misunderstood”

With The Beatles’ Let It Be back on our screens – at last! after an absence of over 50 years, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg talks to Uncut about his memories of the original shoot, earlier attempts to bring it back into circulation and it’s relationship to Peter Jackson’s Get Back…


“I feel so pleased it is coming out again. It has been 50 years and thank God some of the principles are still alive, including me. Peter Jackson’s Get Back was very influential in getting Let It Be reissued because Peter always saw Let It Be as the cherry on top of the cake. He thought it needed to be seen to complete the Beatles experience of that particular time.


“When the film originally came out, it was collateral damage from the Beatles breaking up. When we shot the movie, edited the movie, made the rough cut and the final cut, there were four Beatles. We screened the movie to the band, and then we all went for a fancy dinner. There was a discotheque and we all went down and danced. This was November 1969 and everybody was very happy. But then, unbeknownst to everybody, a little earthquake went off at Apple. Let It Be was the next project, it was ready to go, but then it sat on the shelf as they were breaking up.

“When it was eventually released to fulfil the United Artist contact it came out a month after they broke up. None of them went to the London premiere or supported the film, and everybody who went to see it assumed it had been made as they were breaking up rather than more than a year before. That simply wasn’t true. It was minimised as a movie because of that whole experience.

“It played in cinemas in 1970, appeared on the BBC a couple of times and then Apple put it on VHS, but that quickly got pulled because of an issue around music licensing. The movie was withdrawn. When I asked Apple why it wasn’t re-released after that issue was settled, they told me it was because of the state of play in the Beatles. There was no appetite to release Let It Be.


“This meant that the only way people could see it was bootlegs from the few BBC broadcasts, which tended to have very poor sound quality and really dark visuals. Not only was Let It Be misunderstood when it came out, when people did get the chance to see it, it looked shitty. Over the years that followed, I made videos with Wings and every so often I’d ask Paul about Let It Be. Paul would always say he’d like to see it come out, but nothing ever happened. Then after a while, every time he saw me there’d be a panicky look in his eyes.

“In the late 90s after Anthology, Apple made some in-house documentaries about the making of Let It Be. They wanted to do something but weren’t sure what. I was interviewed by Mark Lewisohn and it was so long ago I still had gelled hair. But the Beatles were all doing their own things and it never happened.

“Then Peter Jackson got involved. Apple said that Peter Jackson wanted to take a whack at re-editing the original footage and making a longer version of the movie. They were interested in how I’d feel about that, and worried I might throw a wobbly but I was thrilled. I had made this in 1969 and didn’t really want to go and look at it all myself. Peter and I had completely different briefs. When I made the film, I was planning to shoot a concert – the rehearsal footage was really meant to be a sort of trailer for the concert. Then when George left, part of his proviso when he came back was there should be no more talk about a TV special. He just wated to make an album. It suddenly became a different thing. We could have stopped filming after the concert idea was dropped but we kept going because I needed to figure out an ending for the movie and create something that could play in theatres. We eventually compromised with the rooftop concert.

“Peter had all this footage and spent three years working on it. He lost a year through Covid but that allowed him to make it for streaming rather than the cinema – so he made an eight-hour movie over three episodes. This was twice as long as Gone With The Wind. Get Back was amazing and won an Emmy but it was a different thing.

“While Peter was working on Get Back he was looking at the Let It Be footage and he was always very respectful. He’d ask questions, he’d send me clips and he’d ask about technical stuff and we’d talk about things I couldn’t do at the time. One example is the conversation between Paul and John about George round the table in the canteen. Back in 1969, there was tension brewing and Paul, John and I had lunch. I had a feeling something might come up so I put a mic in the flower pot. I left them and they had this conversation about George, but when I played it back later all I could hear was cutlery and plates clanging.

“Peter was able to isolate the conversation using his technology. He could also separate guitar and voice, which was really useful because guitar players are always strumming when they talk so you can’t hear anything. Pete sent me the audio clips of the Beatles talking without any of the other noises. He had developed this technology where we could hear these conversations for the first time.

“Peter has always liked Let It Be and seen it for what it is. He understands that Get Back and Let It Be are completely different movies, made for completely different reasons with different technology at different times for a different audience. He has been very effective at putting the idea of Let It Be out there. Paul and Ringo and the families of John and George were very happy with Get Back but Peter kept telling Apple that they needed to also release Let It Be.

“They figured they could restore the print. They were originally working off an old print but we wanted a more filmic look, so they worked on that while also working on Get It Back and helped to restore the print. Peter didn’t run off with my baby the way other directors with more ego might have done. He really was a collaborator. Peter and the Apple team have been very helpful. It looks and sounds great and now you can look at without the cloud that hung over the movie when it first came out.

“The film is about four men who loved each other but were no longer the Fab Four. They hadn’t performed for three years and were nearly in their 30s. They were looking at life differently to those glorious years when they changed the world. They were trying to work out what their expectations were. It was about four men growing up. That’s how I cut it. You see great affection, but you also see them staking out their own turf. It was a frustrating time for George in particular. He knew he was a great songwriter and was trying to figure out how to get his work looked at with more attention by John and Paul.

“The relationship between Get Back and Let It Be is unparalleled. There’s no equivalent to compare it with. And you can’t compare Let It Be with Get It Back. This is a film that hasn’t been seen by most people for 50 years so it’s totally out of a time capsule, while Peter could make Get It Back with 50 years of hindsight.

“Was it tempting to make a different edit? No, although I did think about it. But I felt I didn’t need to as Peter’s film covered a lot. I thought Let it Be should be seen for what it was when I made it. I wanted to just let it be.

“We originally had one edit that was 30 minutes longer that we screened for them on the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. I knew that was too long. There was repetition, longueurs. A lot of it was just footage of them rehearsing which is great but after a while it got a bit boring. I had to show them collaborating more. Because the Beatles weren’t on the road together, they weren’t writing together. You could see that when Paul is recording ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and he just gave them the chords.

“In the first rough cut I had some of George leaving. We had Paul, John and Ringo talking without George. The Beatles themselves did not offer a lot of input during the edit but sometimes you would hear from another person what might work better, just occasionally. On this occasion, Neil Aspinall suggested we didn’t need the stuff without George as it was confusing for the viewer. They saw that The Beatles were very powerful as an entity and didn’t want to go into the stuff about George. That meant that in Let It Be there were always four Beatles. You have to realise that at the time, there was no real sense they were actually going to break up. We felt they might go and do solo projects – they were already starting to do that – but they would always come back as the Beatles, as it was such a powerful force.

“We showed the first cut and that evening I had dinner with Paul and Linda, John and Yoko and Pete Brown from Apple. We didn’t talk about the movie so my understanding was that they were very happy. We had a lovely evening, very civilised, then Pete Brown called a couple of days later and said he was wondering if there was too much John and Yoko in the film. I didn’t think there was – I had tried to keep John and Yoko in most of the shots as that was what it was like in the room. Pete said, “Let me put it like this, I have had three phone calls this morning from three different people all suggesting there is too much Yoko.” I knew what that meant. So I made the change.

“Generally, they interfered very little and when they did, I understand exactly why they wanted what they wanted. It always made sense and I was okay with it. The sequence of George and Paul arguing, which everybody thought was controversial, they never even blinked at – this was, for them, regular talk between musicians about a song. It happens. It’s a conversation about creativity. People took it for a sign that something was rotten but at the time, it didn’t seem that way.

“I am very proud of the concert footage. Coming up with the idea and then pulling it off. They were thrilled when they did it. They were so happy on that roof, even though it was so cold and windy. They were so happy to be playing together for an audience even though they couldn’t actually see them. And then you get the blue meanies coming up to stop the concert right at the end – what could be better?

“What is the right order to watch it in – Get Back or Let It Be? I have no idea. I was fascinated by the story that Peter was telling and had a lot of fond memories of some of the shots as I had taken them myself. He was able to explore the story about George that I had taken out. I was very touched by the way Peter always talked about Let It Be. He said it was a wonderful movie that had a bad rep and needed to be seen again. We weren’t in cahoots, he’s just been an advocate and he believes the two need to be seen together.

“Peter was dealing with different Beatles to me. I had all four of them at a difficult time in their lives, while he was working with Paul and Ringo, both around 80 with very different views of things back then. Now, Paul and Ringo were very excited about seeing all that old footage that Peter was able to use. They weren’t interested in that at all in 1969 and they might not even have watched Let It Be since it came out.

“Will they enjoy it? I think it’s a very valuable picture and I was always sad that it came off the market. People were always asking about it but lot of people who asked that question are now dead. This is a completely new audience. It does look pretty good now, and that will make a difference – it looks and it sounds great. I am fascinated to see how people receive it.”

Let It Be launches exclusively on Disney+ on May 8