September 26, 2021

BEATLES ON THE BRINK: How Peter Jackson pieced together the Fab Four’s last days.

In the end, there was a compromise. Having begun working at Twickenham, the Beatles relocated to a makeshift studio in the basement of 3 Savile Row, the central London address that was the home of their company Apple. The plan for a televised concert was abandoned, and it was agreed – just about – that the group were now being filmed for a feature-length documentary. And on Thursday 30 January, the four of them – joined by the American keyboard player and singer Billy Preston – played, with a mixture of panache and joyous energy, on the Apple building’s roof. No one knew it was their last public performance, but, in retrospect, they ensured that such a significant moment passed off almost perfectly.
Such was the finale of four weeks of filming and recording that eventually resulted in an 80-minute feature-length film titled Let It Be, and the album of the same name. What remained in the Beatles’ vaults – although some of it subsequently fell into the hands of bootleggers – was 50 additional hours of rushes and more than twice as much audio, brimming with an immersive sense of who they were and how they worked.

Eventually, in preparation for Let It Be’s 50th anniversary, most of this material was collected together. In 2017, Apple recruited the New Zealand-based director Peter Jackson – the creator of the six film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, built from restored footage of the first world war – to cut a new feature-length film. As it eventually turned out, the pandemic made a normal theatrical release impossible, and opened up the possibility of something even more ambitious. Jackson ended up creating three two-hour documentaries, which will premiere at the end of November on the streaming platform Disney+.

As Jackson puts it, his new films tell the story of the Beatles “planning for a concert that never takes place”, and “a concert that does take place, which wasn’t planned”. Thanks to his and his team’s restoration work, everything is pin-sharp, and unbelievably evocative of time and place: the tale unfolds in a London of trilby hats, Austin Powers-esque fashions and copious cigarette smoke. But the films’ key attribute is their intimacy, and the light they shine on the Beatles’ instinctive creativity, their deep personal bonds and, as they neared their final split, their thoughts about their future.

To be fair, they had one more album in them before the split, which was written to be their finale, after the Get Back/Let It Be debacle: Solid State: New Book Provides In-Depth Look at the Making of the Beatles’ Swan Song, Abbey Road.

Related: George Harrison’s Great Song That Doesn’t Get Talked About. An appreciation of “It’s All Too Much.” As one of the commenters notes, “The once heavily bootlegged long version of the recording is the one to hear, actually.” Well, here you go!

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