Peter Jackson Signs on to Make New Beatles Film Out of Unseen ‘Let It Be’ Footage

The Beatles
Courtesy Apple Corps Ltd.

Sir Peter, meet Sir Paul, and Mother Mary. “Lord of the Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson has come aboard a project that Paul McCartney had previously hinted was in the works: a new Beatles documentary using the 55 hours of in-studio footage that were shot in early 1969 for the 1970 feature film “Let It Be.”

The announcement is being made today — on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ rooftop concert atop the Apple Records offices in London — by Apple Corps Ltd. and WingNut Films Ltd., Jackson’s production company.

No release date or plan has been set, but sources say there’s every reason to suspect that the still-untitled film will come out in 2020 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Let It Be” album and movie.

“The 55 hours of never-before-seen footage and 140 hours of audio made available to us ensure this movie will be the ultimate ‘fly on the wall’ experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about,” Jackson said in a statement. “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.”

The original “Let It Be” film has long been out of circulation, released only on VHS and laserdisc. The film was restored for a planned DVD issue in the early 2000s, but that was scuttled amid reports that McCartney and Ringo Starr with the movie’s emphasis on tension in the recording studio as they recorded a little more than a year before their breakup.

Fans who were aware of McCartney’s interest in releasing a more upbeat look at the ’69 sessions have wondered if the new film would take the place of “Let It Be,” with the original movie forever consigned to the Apple dustbin. Happily, any fears about that film getting buried forever have turned out not to be true: A restored version of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s theatrical release is set to finally get its belated digital release, “following the release of this new film,” according to Apple’s announcement.

The original “Let It Be” film was shot in 16mm and not exactly known for its pristine cinematography. So one point of considerable interest with the new film is that Jackson plans to spruce up the footage using some of the same techniques used for his highly acclaimed World War I documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old.” As on that doc, which recently had sold-out single-day engagements in U.S. theaters, Jackson, his producer Clare Olssen and editor Jabez Olssen will be relying on the restorative powers of Park Road Post in New Zealand to make those 50-year-old reels look less dated.

Jackson, in his statement, concurred with McCartney’s assessment that the 1970 film undersold just how much fun the Beatles had in the studio when they were making the album that ended up being titled “Let It Be.”

“I was relieved to discover the reality is very different to the myth,” Jackson said. “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. 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. … I’m thrilled and honored to have been entrusted with this remarkable footage. Making the movie will be a sheer joy.”

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Travis Graalman

The announcement makes no mention of any audio boxed set to go along with the film, though it’s widely speculated that a “Let It Be” super deluxe edition would be a natural for 2020, and that this would naturally would be preceded in 2019 by a 50th anniversary edition of “Abbey Road,” which was actually recorded after “Let It Be” (for the most part) but released first. But in an interview with Variety last September, Giles Martin, who was instrumental in the “Sgt. Pepper” and White Album deluxe reissues, disavowed any knowledge of what was next in the boxed set lineup.

The dozens of hours of outtakes from “Let It Be” have remained a source of fascination for Beatles fans for 50 years — with many of the audio discards, if not the filmic ones, circulating on bootlegs. The album being documented was originally to be titled “Get Back,” with an initial concept that called for the Beatles to pull a back-to-roots move and resurrect some of their favorite oldies on record as well as debuting new tracks in their first live performance in years. That concept fell away, but fans will soon get a chance to officially hear and see the Beatles jamming on cover tunes, not to mention some original compositions that ended up not on the “Let It Be” album but “Abbey Road” or their post-breakup solo records.

As the lack of video bonuses on the “Sgt. Pepper” and White Album packages has made even clearer, the Beatles were rarely filmed at work in the recording studio for even a minute, much less the 55 hours committed to celluloid for this project.

Jackson’s involvement comes as a surprise. But McCartney teased the nature of the project in an interview with Canada’s Radio X last fall, when asked the inevitable question about the status of “Let It Be.” “I think there may be a new version of it,” he said at the time. “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.”

Executive producers named for the new film are Ken Kamins for WingNut Films and Jeff Jones and Jonathan Clyde for Apple Corps.

When it rains, it pours, for patient ’60s and ’70s rock fans who’ve longed to see superior outtakes from arguably iffy music movies. In a similar example of a master modern filmmaker taking up vintage footage, Netflix confirmed to Variety earlier this month that Martin Scorsese is making a film about Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975-76, presumably using a lot of footage shot and and never used for the “Renaldo and Clara” movie.