Peter Jackson, the Academy Award-winning director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has taken on a new film project: A new The Beatles documentary culled from never-before-seen footage shot during the recording of Let It Be. The director will create the new feature-length film from a 55-hour cache of footage from the iconic album’s creation.
As Jackson explains in a press release announcing the project, “The 55 hours of never-before-seen footage and 140 hours of audio made available to us, ensures this movie will be the ultimate ‘fly on the wall’ experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about—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 film will be produced by Jackson’s WingNut Films and Apple Corps in full cooperation with surviving Beatles members and widows Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison. Jackson will reportedly restore the footage using techniques similar to those utilized in his recent World War I documentary, The Shall Not Grow Old.
Of course, this will not be the first notable documentary made from the footage of The Beatles’ recording sessions for Let It Be. The album was originally conceived by Paul McCartney as an audiovisual project called Get Back—an album and an accompanying documentary about The Beatles’ road back to performing live, which they had formally given up to focus on honing their studio craft prior to the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, the sessions for the project were mired in creative miscommunication and mounting animosity between the band members, and rather than highlighting a new chapter in the band’s saga, the resulting documentary seemed to lay bare the reality that the Beatles were beyond repair. By the time Let It Be was released, the Beatles had broken up.
George Harrison, the band member most averse to the grind of touring during the “Beatlemania” era, was against the idea of returning to the stage to begin with. John Lennon, previously a creative partner with McCartney, slipped into a more detached role, withdrawing into his soon-to-be marriage with Yoko Ono, whose attendance in the studio during sessions amplified the resentment between the band members. The presence of the documentary cameras also magnified the deepening rifts. At one point, fed up with the constant arguing between Lennon and McCartney, Harrison “quit the band” and stormed out of the studio. He was eventually convinced to return a few days later.
All of the bad blood is painfully apparent in the documentary footage, and the eventual Let It Be documentary is now known as a film that was intended to document the making of an album but instead became a front-row seat to the break-up of a band. Even the now-iconic Let It Be cover art underscores the state of the band when it was recorded: The cover features four separate photos of the four Beatles set on a black background, all still forming a cohesive unit yet not quite connecting.
However, according to Jackson, “I was relieved to discover the reality is very different to the myth. 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.”
Continues Jackson, “This movie will be the ultimate ‘fly-on-the-wall’ experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about. … 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 announcement of Jackson’s new film comes on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ final live performance on the roof of Apple HQ, which also serves as the culmination of the original Let It Be documentary. According to the announcement, once the new film is released, a digitally restored version of the 1970 Let It Be film will also be made available.