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Michael Lindsay-Hogg already had an extensive history of working with rock bands in television and on film by the time he got the call to make what would become the documentary “Let It Be.” In the mid-1960s, he was directing live performances of bands including the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Yardbirds on the popular British TV show “Ready Steady Go.” He went on to make promos — videos shown on television as publicity for new releases — with the Beatles (“Rain,” “Hey Jude”), the Stones (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”) and the Who (“Happy Jack”).

But it was shortly after Mick Jagger asked him to come up with an idea for a Stones TV special (“The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”) when he got that call.


“I was sitting in the Stones offices in Maddox Street in London, and McCartney called, saying, ‘Do you want to come over and talk with us?’” said Lindsay-Hogg, 81, by phone from his home in Hudson, N.Y. “So, I did. We made ‘Rock and Roll Circus’ in December, and by then I was talking with the Beatles about doing a television special with them. How lucky can you be?”

Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg.Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

But there were problems. The plan was that the Beatles would work on a new album, and the television special would be where their new songs would be premiered. Filming started in the cold and cavernous Twickenham Film Studios. No one could decide where the concert would be performed. George Harrison, reportedly feeling unhappy and underappreciated, quit the band.

“For about four days, we were all sitting around wondering what was going to happen,” recalled Lindsay-Hogg. “Meanwhile, there were nighttime phone calls between George and the others, and George said he would come back, so long as we didn’t talk about a television special, because he wanted to concentrate on the music. He also wanted to leave Twickenham, and go to the [more comfortable] Apple studio. So we went to Apple, there was no more talk about a TV special and, overnight, it went from being a television special to a documentary.”


When it came time to start editing, Lindsay-Hogg’s idea for the film was that it was “a look at the Beatles, which no one had seen before. How they worked, and how they interacted with each other as they were working. Four friends from the time they were teenagers, who were now in their mid-late-20s, and how they navigated music and their lives.”

“Let It Be” was shot in January 1969, edited throughout the year, and wasn’t released until May 1970, about a month after the Beatles announced they had broken up. Even though the film has plenty of light and funny and astounding musical moments — Paul and Ringo fooling around at a piano, a goofy performance of “Bésame Mucho,” a frantically paced rehearsal of “Two of Us” — there’s also a prominent argument between Paul and George. That troubling part sticks out, and people saw “Let It Be” as a breakup movie. That still irks Lindsay-Hogg.

“The scene of George and Ringo working on ‘Octopus’s Garden’ is heartbreakingly sweet,” he said. “And there’s the wonderful scene of John and Yoko waltzing to ‘I Me Mine.’ But I wanted to keep the Paul and George scene in for a specific reason. These are people with an artistic temperament. People don’t always agree. And that was really no different here, but no one had ever seen it before, because [Beatles manager] Brian [Epstein] always had a lid on how they were presented. But now Brian was gone, and they’re not together in the same way. People looked at that scene as a sign that the Beatles were breaking up. But it was really only a moment of small tension.”


Then the decades went by; and a few years ago, Lindsay-Hogg was in London, when Apple’s Jonathan Clyde asked him over for a cup of tea.

The Beatles' "Let It Be."
The Beatles' "Let It Be."

“He said, ‘Peter Jackson has seen a lot of the uncut footage and would like to take a whack at it. How do you feel about that?’ I said, ‘That sounds great!’ Because I did it 50 years ago and I didn’t want to do it again. ‘Let It Be’ is itself, and I like it. The ending on the roof is a great ending to the movie, because they’re happy, they’re playing together, all their barnacles are off, and they feel like kids again. I like Peter’s work, and told Jonathan it was a good idea. He asked if I wanted to be involved much, and I said no. I didn’t want to look at the 56 hours anymore. I’d done that, I made my movie with it.

“I had to cut a lot of stuff out of ‘Let It Be’ for a variety of reasons,” he added. “Some were Beatles reasons, some were because a sequence might have been too long. But I knew that Peter would have a bigger canvas with his six-hour film, and I knew that he might put things in his movie that I would have wanted in mine. I don’t care whose movie it is; I just wanted people to see them, and I’m very glad it’s Peter that’s doing it.”