Considering the amount of archived Beatles material that has been released over the past 15 years, one can be forgiven for thinking the vaults are empty. But there is one important piece of material that is still unavailable: the band's 1970 feature film Let It Be. Released in cinemas in 1970, and then briefly on video and laserdisc in the 1980s, the film is now unavailable, with no plans for a rerun. But sleuthing Beatles fans can find full versions of the film on YouTube, as well as a wealth of information about the movie's chequered history.
Let It Be is generally considered a depressing film that charts the break-up of the Beatles. The project began as an idea to show the band rehearsing and writing new songs. The film, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, was to culminate in a big live show to enable fans to see them performing live - they had stopped playing concerts in the mid-1960s. But the project turned into a disaster: the band did not like the cameras filming them at work in the bleak Twickenham film studios. Worse, they were not getting on, and they argued bitterly.
After the film showed up on video in the 1980s, it disappeared. There have been rumours of a rerelease ever since, but a DVD has never materialised.
Missing In Action Flicks (www.dvdjournal.com/mia/letitbe.m.shtml) explains the accepted argument for the film's non-appearance - that George Harrison felt he came over badly and vetoed its release. Artists normally have little say in what is released, as they sign over their rights to the film company. But according to the site, the Beatles bought the rights to Let It Be, and have full control over it.
The plot thickens around 2003, when Naked, the stripped-down version of the Let It Be LP, was released. It transpired that a print of the film had been cleaned up in the 1990s for The Beatles Anthology DVD. An Entertainment Weekly interview with director Lindsay-Hogg (www.ew.com/ew/article/ 0,,547041,00.html) said that Lennon's partner Yoko Ono, not Harrison, was originally the problem. The three other Beatles had wanted her cut from the film before it was released. That proved technically difficult to do.
Lindsay-Hogg said that the film was again readied for release in 2003. Again it failed to appear.
In 2008, there were rumours again about a Let It Be DVD. Plans were apparently afoot, but were scuppered by the two living Beatles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney: according to reports, they felt they had refocused the public's attention on the band's time as a happy bunch of mop-tops amid the plans for a release of remastered Beatles LPs and the Beatles Rock Band project.