Beatles "Let It Be" doc: Disney+ restored version is a superb testament to resilience and creativity

Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 film gets a glorious restoration, capturing rock ‘n’ roll’s most extraordinary foursome

By Kenneth Womack

Contributing Writer

Published May 7, 2024 9:01AM (EDT)

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in THE "The Beatles: Let It Be" (Ethan A. Russell/Apple Corps Ltd./Disney+)
Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in THE "The Beatles: Let It Be" (Ethan A. Russell/Apple Corps Ltd./Disney+)

In recent years, music aficionados have been blessed with an embarrassment of riches —particularly when it comes to the Beatles. A newly restored version of "Let It Be" (1970), splendidly directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, marks the latest gem in the Beatles’ multiverse. The film was unveiled during a private screening last week at an Upper West Side cineplex, and it didn’t disappoint. Returned to its original glory, "Let It Be" is a work of sheer beauty, capturing rock ‘n’ roll’s most extraordinary foursome as they battled a series of daunting conditions and rediscovered their art in the nick of time.

Crediting filmmaker Peter Jackson as his “silent partner,” Lindsay-Hogg reveled in the opportunity to restore his film in the wake of "Get Back" (2021), the three-part treatment that Jackson assembled from Lindsay-Hogg’s original footage. As Lindsay-Hogg pointed out prior to the screening, outside of the "Let It Be" project, “there had been no documentation of these amazing four guys who changed the history of music.” Indeed, beyond Lindsay-Hogg’s footage, we have scant imagery of the Beatles crafting their timeless music in the studio.

As it happens, "Let It Be" is the result of one of the strangest, most labyrinthine journeys in the history of cinema. In May 1970, when Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary was originally released, the world was in mourning. Scarcely a month earlier, Paul McCartney had announced the Beatles’ disbandment. Hence, moviegoers understandably viewed "Let It Be," along with the film’s soundtrack, as epitaphs of sorts.

In truth, it was all a misunderstanding. Lindsay-Hogg shot "Let It Be" in January 1969, four months prior to that fateful evening in May when the other Beatles accosted McCartney at Olympic Studios, delivering an ultimatum that they should sign notorious American businessman Allen Klein as their manager post-haste. When McCartney balked, all hell broke loose. “That was the night we broke the Beatles,” he later explained to music historian Mark Lewisohn. “Really, that was the big crack in the Liberty Bell. It never came back together after that one.”

But in January 1969, the Beatles were wrestling with other problems — namely, that they had set themselves up with a tall order. Months earlier, they had mimed promo films of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” for Lindsay-Hogg’s cameras. Flush with excitement after playing in front of a studio audience, they began contemplating the idea of making a bravura return to the stage after a two-year absence from live performance. It must have seemed like a good idea that night at Twickenham Film Studios. But time, alas, was their enemy. 

Given other commitments — for one thing, Ringo Starr was set to begin filming "The Magic Christian" with Peter Sellers in early February — they would be forced to complete this new project entirely in the month of January. Lindsay-Hogg was tasked with documenting the Beatles while they rehearsed material for the stage. Incredibly, they felt the need to compose a host of new songs in spite of the fact that some 40 days earlier they had released "The Beatles (The White Album)," the double-LP that contained a whopping 30 brand-spanking new numbers. Surely, they could draw from the contents of that magnum opus during their January 1969 Twickenham rehearsals? After all, "The White Album" was currently ensconced at the top of the international music charts.

But not the Beatles. Their rage for seeking out new forms of expression, for creation for creation’s sake is why, even decades later they are still pop music’s consensus GOAT. But as it turned out, compiling new songs was the least of their problems. On Jan. 10, George Harrison abruptly quit the band, sending his Beatle colleagues into a mad scramble to rejoin their ranks. After stewing for a few days, Harrison agreed to return to the fold if the group agreed to scrap their plans for staging a concert and abandon Twickenham in favor of their newly built basement studio at Apple’s Savile Row headquarters. 

Love the Beatles? Listen to Ken's podcast "Everything Fab Four."

At this juncture, Lindsay-Hogg shifted his focus from documenting the Beatles’ rehearsals to capturing the band doing what they did best — indeed, better than anyone ever — making an album. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the project was delayed for yet another week after they discovered that Beatles insider and crackpot inventor Magic Alex Mardas had bungled the project of outfitting the basement studio. With eight-track recording coming into vogue during that era, Magic Alex vowed to provide the group with double the recording capacity — even if he didn’t quite understand what multitrack recording meant. “It was a 16-track system,” Harrison later remarked, and Magic Alex “had 16 little, tiny speakers all around the walls. The whole thing was a disaster and had to be ripped out.”

The dramedy of errors that had brought the Beatles to this juncture set up perhaps their finest moment as a working rock ‘n’ roll group. The circumstances were now in place for the band to notch a come-from-behind victory, the kind that only the truly great ones can pull off. With just 10 days remaining in advance of their self-imposed deadline, they staged their improbable comeback. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

And Lindsay-Hogg’s film — then and now — captures these moments in all their magnificence. With the clock running down before their eyes, the Beatles bring such classic tunes as “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Let It Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Two of Us” to life in Apple Studios, culminating in the famous Rooftop Concert on Jan. 30. It’s a marvel to behold the group as they transform the impossible into the possible — and seemingly without effort, no less. If there’s a living testament to the Beatles’ resilience and unstoppable creativity, "Let It Be" is it.

The fully restored "Let It Be" streams on Disney+ beginning Wednesday, May 8.


By Kenneth Womack

Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin and the host of "Everything Fab Four," a podcast about the Beatles distributed by Salon. He is also the author of "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," published in 2019 in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life" and the authorized biography "Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans" (November 2023).  Womack is Professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University.

MORE FROM Kenneth Womack

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Beatles Disney Plus Let It Be Michael Lindsay-hogg Movies Review The Beatles