In 1969 it was decided that The Beatles, world famous group that they were, should be filmed recording their new album for a television project, and Let It Be was the result, eventually becoming a theatrical feature in the process. Nobody in the public knew that this would be the final album of the band, and the film was released a short while after they had announced they would be splitting up. It begins with rehearsal footage and Paul McCartney improvising on the piano, where he is joined by Ringo Starr and George Harrison, and the rehearsals continue for over half the running time.
It is because the Beatles disbanded soon after making Let It Be that it has become so controversial, if only to the people involved with its making. But if you're expecting stand up shouting matches, massive huffs and stormings out, then that's not really what this is about. Mainly it's concerned with the music, yet even when the cameras are simply portraying the musicians creating, there's a feeling that it will soon all be finished, as the enthusiasm comes across as lacking.
Indeed, there's a "Let's get this over with" mood to much of the film, but director Michael Lindsay-Hogg opts to leave out any footage he may have captured of rows. Except for one, where McCartney is seen having a disagreement with Harrison, for many the most uncomfortable scene - it's not mentioned here, but Harrison walked out during shooting, although he was coaxed back to complete the album. The other uncomfortable scene has Paul trying to perusade John Lennon to get the band to play a live gig like in the old days, only for Lennon to remain silent throughout - he seems to be simmering with resentment.
There may be lighter moments from the first two-thirds, such as John waltzing with Yoko Ono while I, Me, Mine plays on the soundtrack, or Ringo nearly falling off his stool after performing, but it's as if there's a thunderstorm brewing overhead. Watching this is a lot like entering a room where a major argument has taken place that the antagonists are now trying to patch up for the sake of... well, for the sake of the album. Lindsay-Hogg does try to keep things light, but for the most part there's a muted air to much of the footage, even if it is The Beatles you are watching. Or perhaps, at this stage, because of that.
However, just at the point where you're about to give it all up as a lost cause, the band sort out their live show idea and assemble on the roof of the Apple building to play a live gig. Suddenly there is a ray of sunshine (though it looks freezing) as they launch into Get Back and the joie de vivre that many fans wanted to see is finally evident. It is this final half hour that lifts the documentary above what has gone before, and this is as much to do with the people in the street below and the buildings surrounding them as it is with the band. Most are delighted to see - and hear - them, with some amusing soundbites from a range of listeners. A handful of killjoys want the free concert stopped, and they finally get their way when the police intervene, so ending a chapter in pop culture history. Let It Be may be a downer, but worth seeing for a little of the old magic at the end.