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Goodbye, hello: Unseen Beatles footage becomes movie project for Peter Jackson

Reuters, AP

“Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson is making a movie about the Beatles with previously unseen studio footage, the band’s website said Wednesday — 50 years to the day after the Fab Four performed live together for the final time.

The Oscar winner will work with some 55 hours of never-released video of John, Paul, George and Ringo as they worked on their “Let It Be” album in January 1969.

The footage, plus 140 hours of audio, “ensures this movie will be the ultimate ‘fly on the wall’ experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about,” Jackson said in a statement. “It’s like a time machine transports us back to 1969, and we get to sit in the studio watching these four friends make great music together.”

Jackson released a World War I documentary last year using decades-old frontline footage to rave reviews.

The “Let It Be” album and film were released in May 1970, soon after the Beatles broke up, and the unseen footage had originally been planned for a television program.

The original movie, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, has long been viewed as a chronicle of the band members growing apart. In a Rolling Stone interview given months after the film’s release, John Lennon recalled the making of “Let It Be” as a miserable experience, “set up by Paul (McCartney) for Paul.

“That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can’t speak for George (Harrison), but I pretty damn well know we got fed up of being side-men for Paul,” he said.

But Jackson says the additional footage tells a very different story.

“It’s simply an amazing historical treasure-trove,” he said. “Sure, there’s moments of drama — but none of the discord this project has long been associated with.”

Added Jackson, whose WingNut Films announced the project in a statement with the Beatles’ Apple Corps, “Watching (them) … work together, creating now classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating — it’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate.”

The band performed live together for the last time on the rooftop of Apple’s office in London on Jan. 30, 1969. They officially split a year later.

Jackson is working on “Let It Be” with the cooperation of McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, respectively. No release date has been set. A remastered version of the original film, which won an Oscar for best original score, is also planned.

In 1969, the movie was meant to show the Beatles turning away from the psychedelic tricks of “Sgt. Pepper” as they jam on new songs such as “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Get Back.” But the Beatles seem far older and wearier than the joyous mop-tops of a few years earlier. Harrison briefly walked out during filming and on camera argues with McCartney over a proposed guitar part.

Harrison would later blame tension with McCartney and unhappiness with Lennon’s then-new relationship with Ono, who is often by Lennon’s side in the movie. “Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!'” he said in an interview for a 1990s video anthology of the Beatles.

“Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”

After “Let It Be” came out, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner spoke of Lennon “crying his eyes out” when the two saw it together.

The accompanying album led to a bitter dispute between McCartney and his bandmates. The group had pushed aside longtime producer George Martin and brought in Phil Spector, who infuriated McCartney by adding strings and a choir to the ballad “The Long and Winding Road.” In 2003, McCartney oversaw a new and sparer version of the album, “Let It Be … Naked.”

Last fall, McCartney hinted at the upcoming revision of the film.

“I know people have been looking at the (unreleased) footage,” he said in an interview aired on Canada’s Radio X. “And someone was talking to me the other day and said: ‘The overall feeling is very joyous and very uplifting. It’s like a bunch of guys making music and enjoying it.'”