Only half a century separated Peter Jackson’s last project from his next. Fifty years to the day since The Beatles played their last public concert, on a London rooftop, he announced plans to do for them what he had done for the troops in the trenches.
The 1969 performance, along with 55 hours of footage that did not make the final cut and has remained unseen outside the band’s inner circle, will form the core of a new fly-on-the-wall film about their final recordings.
Jackson, the Oscar-winning director of the Lord of the Rings films, will submit them to a technical process similar to the one he used to restore grainy, black-and-white newsreel from the First World War for his epic documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, released on the centenary of the armistice last November.
Its stunning clarity, colour and high definition, was lauded by critics for bringing the past to life as no film had done before.
Yesterday, Jackson promised to aim for the same effect.
“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,” he said.
“This movie will be the ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about.”
The footage, originally shot by the director Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the 1970 film, Let It Be, is already in colour, but was intended as a TV project and made on grainy 16mm film.
Only 80 minutes of it was used in the eventual cinema release, which opened with roadies setting up Ringo’s drums on a rehearsal stage at Twickenham Film Studios, and ended with the concert on the roof of Apple Records.
The film, which has long been out of circulation, did not include references to supposed ill-feeling between the band members, or to George Harrison’s temporary resignation and walk-out.
Jackson said the footage was “very different to the myth” surrounding the filming sessions, which saw Paul McCartney and John Lennon composing the tracks for their final album.
“It’s simply an amazing historical treasure trove. There’s moments of drama – but none of the discord this project has long been associated with,” said Jackson, a New Zealander who was seven at the time.
“Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo work together, creating now-classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating – it’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate.”
The film is being made with the co-operation of the surviving Beatles, and the estates of Lennon and Harrison, and will be accompanied by a re-release of the 1970 film in a restored digital format.
McCartney was known to have been unhappy with the original production, telling a Canadian interviewer last year: “The original movie came out and it was really sort of about the break-up of the Beatles. And so for me, it was a little sad.”