“Let It Be” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg couldn’t be happier with Peter Jackson’s “Get Back,” the three-part, nearly eight-hour miniseries made up of outtakes from his original Beatles documentary, which arrived on Disney Plus two weeks ago to much fanfare.
Now 81, living in Hudson, NY, with his wife and three dogs, and mostly painting, Lindsay-Hogg is hoping Apple Corps will make good on its promise to re-release “in some form” his oft-misunderstood original, which had always been seen in light of the Beatles’ acrimonious split just before it finally came out in 1970.
“For years I’ve been agitating with Apple to re-release ‘Let It Be,’” says Lindsay-Hogg. “It’s been about to happen for the past 20 years. I’m very fond of the people there, but all the internal foolishness got in the way.”
While in London three years ago, Lindsay-Hogg met with Apple Corps’ director of production, Jonathan Clyde, who told him “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson “would like to take a whack” at reshaping his footage into a much longer piece.
“That’s an English term for ‘get involved,’” he explains. “There’s another cricket term called a ‘wobbly,’ which is a pitch that doesn’t come in straight. When I heard that, Jonathan was worried I was going to throw a ‘wobbly,’ and be upset.”
Instead, it was the best news Lindsay-Hogg could’ve heard. “I didn’t want to go back and re-cut it myself,” he explains. “I had been there and done that 50 years ago.”
Lindsay-Hogg, who originally started as a producer on the popular ‘60s U.K. music show “Ready Steady Go,” which is where he first met the Beatles and the Stones, going on to direct their earliest promotional films – the forerunners of music videos — saw it as an opportunity for people to re-assess his work on “Let It Be.”
“When I finished filming it at the end of January 1969, the Beatles had not broken up,” points out Lindsay-Hogg, and in fact, the group was so energized, they went on to record “Abbey Road,” which ended up coming out before the “Let It Be” album. “I now recognize that my cut is a very accurate, enjoyable cinema verité of what it was like to work with the Beatles for a month in 1969.”
The son of Irish Broadway and Oscar-nominated film star Geraldine Fitzgerald (‘Wuthering Heights”), Lindsay-Hogg has been dogged his entire life with rumors his biological father is none other than Orson Welles, whom his mother broke into the business by starring in one of his Mercury Theater productions. Although most people assume Lindsay-Hogg is British, he was born in New York City and spent the first six years of his life in Los Angeles before moving back east when his mom remarried. Lindsay-Hogg gets the “Sir” from his legal father, Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg, a fourth baronet who eventually inherited the title.
Although it was never confirmed (his mother’s best friend, Gloria Vanderbilt, told him after her death that’s what Fitzgerald told her), it’s hard not to see Welles in Lindsay-Hogg’s cigar-chewing, cock-of-the-walk director, as portrayed in Jackson’s cut, becoming a character in his own footage, insisting the band perform among ruins in Libya as a climax to the film.
“Peter said at the very beginning he was making a documentary about making a documentary,” said Michael. “’You’re in so much, mate,’ he told me. ‘Even if I wanted to cut you out of it, I couldn’t.’”
Lindsay-Hogg came aboard the original “Let It Be” project after directing the Beatles’ video for “Hey Jude,” in which they performed in front of a small audience for the first time in years, hatching the idea of a TV special featuring a concert of new and old songs played before fans. That morphed into a documentary of the four recording a new album, which begged the question of how it would end.
“Filming 12 hours of the Beatles rehearsing “Get Back’ is not terribly thrilling,” says Lindsay-Hogg. “We were all having lunch in the Apple board room when I said I thought we needed a conclusion, somewhere to go. Yoko piped up with, ‘Are conclusions important?’ And I thought, ‘Oy… here’s my first tripwire.’ I thought we needed something to close it.”
As shown in “Get Back,” various locations were discussed, including the Cavern (“too small”), Primrose Hill (“we lost the permit”) or the aforementioned amphitheater in Libya.
“I wanted to do it there because it was the middle of the world, the cradle of civilization,” he said. “I knew it was my job to come up with an answer.”
“Get Back” shows a scene where engineer Glyn Johns and Lindsay-Hogg point upward, suggesting the concert take place on the roof of Apple’s headquarters on Bond Street in the middle of London. Michael insists it was his idea.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we do it on the roof?’ and John said, ‘Do what on the roof?’ and I said, ‘A concert,’” recalls the director.
After bolstering the roof with some wooden pillars (“That would’ve been a headline in itself, ‘Beatles swallowed by their own roof’”), Lindsay-Hogg proceeded to set up a 10-camera shoot, five on the roof, three down in the streets to capture public reaction, one on the building across the way for wide shots and a hidden two-way camera in the Apple lobby, which picked up the drama with the London bobbies.
The band was still hesitant when it came to the day of the shoot, with the weather a chilly 43 degrees with stiff winds. Lindsay-Hogg, the four Beatles and Ono gathered in a tiny anteroom just below the roof at around 12:30 in the afternoon. George Martin and Glyn Johns were in the studio below getting ready to record.
“Ringo thought it was too cold; he was concerned the guitar players couldn’t feel their fingers. George said, ‘What’s the point? Why do we want to play these songs again?’ He had become a real nudge at this point. He’s ordinarily a wonderful, affable guy, but he was dealing with his own frustrations trying to get the others to record his songs. Paul was the one who pushed hardest to play. He knew we needed to do something special at that point. He knew the only thing that could keep the Beatles together was playing to an audience, keeping that relationship going. So, at this point, it was two against one, then out of the silence comes the voice of John Lennon. ‘Fuck it… let’s do it.’ And that was the deciding vote. They went on to the roof and into history, and that was the last time they ever played together like that.”
Aside from Lindsay-Hogg constantly having a cigar in his mouth (“You can’t chew a cigarette”), the amount of smoking in the film is one of the takeaways, offering a sad reminder that the constantly puffing George Harrison, the youngster in the band, would die of throat cancer at the age of 58 in 2001. Ironically, for all that, there are no signs of the band smoking anything illegal.
“That’s a good question, because I know they all smoked pot at the time,” said Michael. “It was mainly what they used to call ‘ciggies’ in those days. I don’t remember seeing any stuff being rolled or smelling it. But when they were working, they needed a nicotine fix.”
Not to mention tea, toast and marmalade, dutifully served by their faithful transcriber and go-fer, the late Mal Evans, with his Dutch boy haircut.
The rooftop concert remains a tour de force in both “Let It Be” and “Get Back.” Three of the versions the band performed and recorded at that time, “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony,” ended up on the “Let It Be” album. Jackson’s cut features the full 44-minute performance, but Lindsay-Hogg chose to edit.
“I didn’t want false starts or retakes because we’d already seen all that rehearsing,” he insisted. “I wanted it to look and feel like a concert.
“Remember, they were used to performing from 8 at night to 4 in the morning straight through in Hamburg, six nights a week, with just a break to go to the bathroom. What was great was the four of them together.”
Critics have been poking fun at Lindsay-Hogg’s supposed pomposity on camera, but it was like herding cats getting the Beatles to do stuff.
“That’s what Peter [Jackson] said to me originally. He had a pretty easy go with Paul and Ringo because they’re old guys now. When ‘Let It Be’ turned into a documentary about making the album, I wanted them to play in a place where they would be seen by the world. I wasn’t just into smoking my cigar and being at one with the Beatles. I was trying to get things done. To be their sounding board, offer them ideas.”
With both “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” and “Let It Be” under his belt, Lindsay-Hogg, who considers himself the father of the music video, had his place in rock history firmly cemented even before he went on to direct full-length concert films like Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Concert in Central Park” (1982), “Neil Young In Berlin” (1983) and Paul Simon’s “Graceland: The African Concert” (1987). He also directed the 2000 TV movie “Two of Us,” for VH1, a dramatization of the last conversation between Paul and John on the day in 1976 Lorne Michaels offered the band $3,000 to reunite on “Saturday Night Live,” which almost took place. He also went on to direct Tony-winning shows on Broadway such as “Agnes of God” and Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart.”
To this day, Lindsay-Hogg is not sure who his father was, whether indeed he is the illegitimate (and only) son of the great director of “Citizen Kane.”
“My mother told Gloria Vanderbilt, her best friend, that Orson Welles was my father, and I trust her implicitly. My mother was a complex woman. I loved her very much and we got on well. The thing I was always looking and hoping for was my mother to tell my directly. I thought she would after my stepfather died, but then, wouldn’t you know it, life being what it is, she got Alzheimer’s. So when she was going to tell me, she couldn’t remember what she was talking about.”
With “Get Back” out, Lindsay-Hogg is ready for “Let It Be” to be seen in a new light, apart from the nastiness that afflicted its premieres in New York, London and Liverpool, which none of the band attended.
The group had previously signed off on the director’s version of the film. “The only complaints I got was it was a little too long and [Apple employee] Peter Brown told me he got three calls that there was ‘too much John and Yoko.'” recalls Lindsay-Hogg.
They were also absent when the film won an Academy Award in the now-defunct Original Song Score category, which Quincy Jones accepted on their behalf.
“I was very interested to see how Peter put ‘Get Back’ together,” he said. “It’s like mine was a short story and his was a full-length novel. They each have different qualities, but I feel both can exist together. Peter has been very supportive of that and offered us the same equipment he pioneered in making his movie. The original DP, Tony Richmond, and I have been working on the print, and it’s much lighter and doesn’t have the problems with the image being cut off for showing on TV.
“People are still living on confused memories of what was happening back then. ‘Let It Be’ is not a breakup movie. We finished it long before things blew up. It’s a joyous movie when they were happy, performing on a rooftop. It’s fucking great.”
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