- The Beatles, “Let It Be,” and “Get Back”: “Trying to Deceive”? - October 22, 2021
- Peter Jackson’s “Get Back”: Now Thanksgiving on Disney Plus - June 21, 2021
- Happy 50th Birthday to McCartney’s “Ram” - May 17, 2021
Michael G’s post “Let It Be, Get Back, and History as Art” and the comments on the site have raised so many interesting points about Lindsay-Hogg’s 1969 film and Peter Jackson’s forthcoming one that I wanted to say a bit more about why I’m looking forward to Jackson’s film, but also not expecting it to be the whole truth. A lot of that expectation derives from considering historical context, so let’s get into the wayback machine for a minute.
In 1975, Barclay James Harvest released the song “Titles,” taken from their album “Time Honoured Ghosts.” The vast majority of the song does consist of titles–specifically, the titles of Beatles songs. I suggest listening to the song before reading the rest of this post:
I bring up this song now as a reminder that in the late 1960’s and the 1970s there was both a yearning for the Beatles to reunite and something of a backlash against them. “Titles” is an important reminder of one of the reasons for that backlash. (For another example of backlash, see this HD post I wrote about Lester Bangs’ 1975 takedown of the Beatles).
I think the key lyrics in the Barclay James Harvest song are the repeated lines “Were you trying to deceive / Telling me / All you need is love . . . to succeed?” That sentiment encapsulates a fairly common sense, in the 1970s, that the Beatles were a group of hippie optimists whose overly sunny view of the world had been proven false by Altamont, the Charles Manson murders, and the Watergate scandal, among other events. Barclay James Harvest delivers the lines more in mourning than in anger: in the song, they sound like a genuine question, rather than an indictment. “Were you intentionally or accidentally deceiving us?” seems like a fair paraphrase. But note that either way, the fact of deception is not questioned.
I link this sentiment to the atmosphere that Michael G. has so cogently described as surrounding the release of the Let It Be film in 1970. There’s a sense of being hungover from the 1960s, and of embracing a kind of wised-up cynicism. I see Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film as both being shaped by this atmosphere and as contributing to it. Let It Be unquestionably distills realities about this period of the Beatles as a group: they were fighting, the fractures were opening, the end was approaching. Any honest reckoning of the Beatles in the late 1960s / early 1970s must take all this into account.
At the same time, as I’ve said in previous comments on Let It Be / Get Back posts, I don’t see Hogg’s film as the entire truth. That the Beatles recorded Abbey Road after the period Hogg documents points to the complexity of the breakup and of the Beatles’ feelings about it. I find it unsurprising that interviews with Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney around the time that Let It Be was released often mirror the anger and toxicity highlighted in that film. In order for the four members to achieve escape velocity and break up the band, they needed a great deal of hostility as fuel. How deeply-rooted that hostility was, how long it lasted, and how the four former members felt about it in the years afterwards – now those are vexed questions.
That’s why I look forward to seeing the entirety of Jackson’s film and of setting it beside Let It Be. As I do, I want to take into consideration all the salient points that Michael G has made about its creation. Odds are that this version will overemphasize the sunny side and downplay the shadow elements. But both the sun and the shadow are there, and I think each is necessary to gain a better understanding of the Beatles as a phenomenon and as human beings.
In the end, we’ll all have to decide whether Lindsay-Hogg and/or Peter Jackson are deceiving us, wittingly or not. The one thing I’m certain of is that it’s impossible to tell a story like this without being influenced by the cultural pressures of the day.