Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg has an unusual niche: He’s the king of vanished rock & roll documentaries. In 1968, he shot ”The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” a concert with raucous performances by the Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, and others. But the Stones lost the tapes for 30 years, and the film wasn’t released until 1996.
Lindsay-Hogg’s most famous film, 1970’s ”Let It Be” — which chronicled the contentious recording of the titular Beatles album — has been unavailable for 33 years (except for a home-video version briefly sold in the early ’80s). Now, as the Beatles release a new, stripped-down version of the album, ”Let It Be… Naked,” they’re also — finally — working on a ”Let It Be” DVD. Lindsay-Hogg, 63, tells EW.com about capturing some of the foursome’s least fab moments — and convincing the Beatles not to cut them out.
So why wasn’t a ”Let It Be” DVD released alongside ”Naked”?
The idea, as far as I know, is to put out two DVDs sometime in 2004, one of which will be the movie ”Let It Be” with the print restored and the sound mixed to current standards. And then a companion DVD with interviews and extra material from anyone who had anything pertinent to say, one of them being myself.
Were there scenes the Beatles insisted on cutting from the original film?
One of the things that was interesting about ”Let It Be” is that they were sort of falling apart at that time, and it was hard to get some of those moments into the movie because as well as being the stars, they were also the producers. They all had slightly different agendas.
The night we showed a rough cut, John and Yoko and Paul and Linda and [Beatles management rep] Peter Brown and myself went out for dinner and it was pretty chummy. The next day, though, Peter Brown called and said, ”There’s a lot of footage of John with Yoko in there, and I think it ought to come out.” And I said, ”I think it’s really interesting.” And he said, ”Let me put it another way, I’ve had three phone calls [from three Beatles] this morning saying it ought to come out.”
So there was much more in the original cut of John and Yoko relating. You saw that she and John — and I’m not saying she had anything to do with breaking up the Beatles — that they were like a separate camp in the group. And so we took that out.
The Beatles apparently don’t like the movie. Does that bother you?
Well, they’re mixed. I bumped into Paul on an airplane and he said he’d seen it fairly recently and he said he’d liked it. And I think John liked it — if he said he didn’t like it, it had to do with his feelings about Paul at the time.
And George didn’t like it because it represented a time in his life when he was unhappy. He was a very sensitive — almost too sensitive — sort of sardonic guy when he was pushed. It was a time when he very much was trying to get out from under the thumb of Lennon/McCartney — I mean the songwriting team. If there were 12 cuts on the album, they’d get 10, Ringo would be thrown 1, and George would get 1. And George was feeling his artistic oats, and he was writing some wonderful songs, and was looking for a chance to have more expression for himself.
When you shot the scene where George blows up at Paul (”I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to. Whatever it is that will please you”), were you aware of how iconic it would become?
No, but I was aware that they were beginning to get on each other’s nerves. If you notice, there’s a shot looking down on McCartney, and the shot of George talking is on a long, slightly fuzzy lens. That’s because, knowing that this was coming, I didn’t want them to feel the cameras were intrusive. I put one camera up in the gantry shooting down, so they didn’t see it. I moved the other camera back to the end of the studio. So they didn’t really know the cameras were there, which gave them the opportunity to get it off their chest. But I knew I wanted to show the disagreement between these two musicians.
Besides John and Yoko, was there anything else the Beatles insisted on cutting?
No, I was just desperately trying to hang on to the warts-and-all bit of it. I did leave a couple of them in. One was the argument, the other is when Paul is talking to John about playing live, and the shot is of the back of Paul’s head as he’s yammering on, and John looks like he’s about to die from boredom. [Laughs] And that was a tough one to keep in.
How did the famous rooftop concert come about?
Originally, the project was going be a television special, and the documentary footage was going to be used to support the television special. Then, when we realized we weren’t going to do the television special, I had this idea to at least aim somewhere, and to try to do some kind of concert. The great thing about the roof concert is, it’s the last time they played together in any kind of public setting. We have it on film — the last time the most socially and musically influential group of the century played together. And they were happy up there that cold day.
There have been rumors that the police bust that ended the performance was staged. True?
It was 100 percent real. We had a sense that there would be some ruckus about noise or whatever. And Apple was right around the corner from the police station. The police came around because they had some complaints from the Blue Meanies next door who owned the clothing factory. But what was so sweet was that when the policemen came up on the roof, they were so thrilled. Especially that young policeman you see in the film — you know he went home and told his wife not that he stopped the show, but that he was on the roof to hear the Beatles play.