Saturday, November 27, 2021


Peter Jackson's long-awaited documentary of the Beatles at Twickenham in 1969 (the Let It Be sessions) is now out on Disney+. I haven't seen more than one review (highly favorable) of it. What I have seen a lot of is obituaries of Stephen Sondheim, whose reputation is fortunate that it couldn't be any higher (and deservedly so) posthumously than it was while he was alive. I recommend particularly Tim Page in the Washington Post and Isaac Butler on Slate. They cover most of what there is to be said; me, I'm just another person who's enjoyed listening to some Sondheim. Into the Woods is my favorite.

Back to the Beatles. As we have Disney+ I began watching the documentary. I'm not sure at what rate I might continue, though. On one level it's very good: restoration is amazingly clear, it's well-framed in terms of presenting what's going on and when it's happening. One thing that emerges is how ridiculously ambitious the project - to prepare a new live album in a couple of weeks - was; one feels again that if Brian Epstein were alive he could have given the boys a few tips on what could reasonably be accomplished.

But at this level of detail I'm finding it surprisngly boring, something I never felt about previous Beatles documentaries, including the old Let It Be film which I once saw in the theater about 1980. It's just John, Paul, and George noodling endlessly around - Ringo plays a little but hardly says a word - and I can't follow much of what they're dong because I don't know the songs that well - I've never been a fan of most of the Let It Be album, and most of the rest are songs that didn't appear until solo albums which I mostly don't know; I remember from the Let It Be film that a lot of Abbey Road will turn up, but so far it mostly hasn't. And they speak to each other in a kind of shorthand, rarely uttering a complete sentence: what they say is fragmentary or trails off and I can't follow the meaning. Maybe it's because they'd been working together for ten years that they used this shorthand, but an outsider needs guidance.

Jackson is weird in a couple ways. The film begins with a condensed Beatles history, which takes the time to present a clip from the A Hard Day's Night film that will explain a joke the Beatles make in the studio; but there's no explanation of the remark when three Beatles want to make a foreign tour, but Ringo doesn't, that they should just take Jimmy Nicol. (Jimmy Nicol was the drummer who substituted on part of a tour in 1964 when Ringo was having his tonsils removed. I knew that, but if you didn't you'll miss it. Jackson explains who other people mentioned are, but not this.) The condensed history also heavily implies that the Beatles stopped touring in 1966 because their popularity had tanked after incidents like the "more popular than Jesus" remark and the snubbing of Imelda Marcos. There were controversies, yes, but they were still popular, and the end of touring was just as much because it was pointless - they couldn't hear each other over the screaming and they were playing badly.

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