The local movie theater had gone through some changes. It had originally opened as a bowling alley before turning into a two screen movie house. Two screen movie theaters were the thing back in the late sixties and early seventies along with drive in theaters. Later the theaters would turn into four screens followed by eight and then twenty until huge theaters with thirty some screens would arrive in the late nineties. The Ruskin Theater Complex was just a two screener though and had already had its hay day in the early seventies. It had gone from showing first run movies to making itself a baby sitter for a weekly moms day off by showing kid movies once a week for a quarter.
I had gone to some of the kid movies before I entered middle school and remember how rowdy it would get in there. Any chance of actually watching a movie was totally gone. Basically the parents would pay to drop the kids off to watch a movie, the movie operators would lock the kids in a full theater for a couple of hours and open the doors when the movie was over. Apparently they were turning a little profit on this scheme because they kept it going for several years.
It finally came to be on its last legs when they started running movies that had left the first run movie houses for a dollar. You should remember this was before the video cassette recorders had arrived and so if you wanted to see a movie uncut and in its entirety the last chance to do so was the dollar movie houses. I had come to this situation in seventy one when what would become the last movie the Beatles arrived at the Ruskin Theater for a dollar.
It was summer and during this particular summer I did not have many friends that I was hanging around with. It was the pre Ronnie and Larry era and a lot of us had gone separate ways when school let out. I was still going up to Mr. Allard's ball field a few times a week to play baseball but other than that I was pretty much on my own. This was the thing that could make that particular summer stand out for me.
I remember the day clearly right down to what I was wearing. one of my favorite shirts back then was a yellow striped oxford button down that fit me really well. Sporting my favorite shirt and a pair of white jeans with an extremely wide double buckle belt holding them up along with a pair of sandals I left the house to head for the theater. At the time I thought I was dressed pretty cool. I looked the part of a typical suburban hippie want to be. I had parts of the making of looking like a hippie but not all by far. Our family was so un-hippie that my sister actually went to a "hippie" party where they dressed up to try to look like hippies based on what we saw on the news. She had painted flowers on her face and her blue sweatshirt and jeans. Suburbanites in the sixties and seventies were so un-cool but really tried to be cool. My white jeans and wide belt with sandals was my attempt at being as cool as I could coming from the suburbs.
I walked across the shopping center parking lot towards the theater with a dollar in my pocket. On the marquis were the simple words "LET IT BE". That was about all I needed to know. I loved the Beatles music since I was about seven years old. My aunt and myself had a few of their singles and listened to them all the time. I was not so much a Beatle aficionado as to be able to say who sang what song but I knew I loved the music.
The Beatles music had changed somewhat since I had started listening to them at the beginning. The sound was more experimental then it was back in the early sixties. It seemed to go more with the other music that was coming out in those days like Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night among many others. I felt a bit of excitement as I entered the theater and paid admission then walked through the doors to an empty auditorium. I would be watching this last effort by the Beatles by myself and that was fine with me.
From the beginning of the movie I could tell that this was the Beatles movie I had been waiting for. Previous movies were silly things that did not play to reality at all. Stupid stories that were written in order to incorporate as many Beatles songs as possible. They had even done a cartoon called "Yellow Submarine" that was the silliest of all the Beatles attempts but also had the best music for all their films. That was about to change.
This movie was a documentary of the Beatles recording in the studio. It had some great songs that would become classics. It left nothing to the imagination as to what was going on with the Beatles at the time. They were on the brink of a break up and you could feel the tension in the air as they discussed songs, walked through songs and then tried to lay down recordings of the songs.
Ringo seemed completely aloof from the others during the sessions. Sitting behind his drums, he looked bored as Paula and John wrestled with what the songs would sound like. When it became time to play Ringo would do his job. It never failed that not too far into a song someone would stop and Ringo would get this look of impatience on his face and wait for the discussion to end so they could record again.
George Harrison looked to really be trying to put out a good product. He by far was the best musician in the group as far as his guitar playing was concerned but he had little say in how the songs of Paul and John would end up sounding like. He would sit and get lectured by Paul McCartney over and over again on how to play a rift and I had the feeling that George was trying his best to give Paul what he wanted without succeeding very well.
You could feel a tug of war for control of the music between Lennon and McCartney. Each of them were vying for leadership of the group even though long ago it had been John who led the group in all things. The burr under the saddle that triggered this wrestling match sat next to John during most of the recording session.
Yoko Ono had recently married John and he insisted that she be by his side at all times. It was clear that this perturbed the other three greatly. Women had never had a place in the inner workings of the Beatles until now and Yoko was pushing for everything to go the way John envisioned it. The longer Yoko was in the movie the more tension filled the screen.
Eventually they vacated the warehouse that they had been recording in and went back to their studio on Abbey Road to put the finishing touches on the album. At the studio was where Paul played that marvelous rendition of Let It Be. John and Paul seemed more at ease with each other in the studio setting and the music began to sound a little more tight, but there was still that tension in the air.
The film finished off with the Beatles last performance in public from the top of the recording studios. While people in the streets stopped to look up at the Beatles playing songs that had not been heard before the police moved in to keep things moving. They instructed the Beatles to leave the rooftop after about twenty minutes of superb performance footage. By far this was the best live performance footage that had ever been taken of the Beatles. They left the roof top and it was over.
I left the theater feeling that I had seen the greatest rock movie ever. It was by far superior to the other attempts at film that the group had done. I am glad I took the opportunity to see that film.
Both the movie and the album of LET IT BE was shelved for a year or so as the Beatles tried to decide what the future of the group was going to be. During this time they recorded on of their finest albums entitled ABBEY ROAD which featured John on one side and Paul on the other, an indication of the split that was happening inside the studio. It was on the ABBEY ROAD album the George Harrison made his mark with two of his greatest songs. It was all too little too late. After ABBEY ROAD was released McCartney recorded a solo album followed by an album by John. George recorded an album of songs he had been saving up through the years with the Beatles when he was restricted to two songs per album.
After the break up Phil Spector took the recordings from the Let It Be sessions and finished mixing and producing them. The result was a somewhat watered down version of Beatles music. For the first time female vocals showed up on a Beatles album. The album was good, but not up to Beatles standards and when it was finally released, it arrived without much of a splash. The movie did not do much better, hence my chance to see it for a dollar. It made a brief appearance on VCR tapes before disappearing from memories and catalogs.
A few years ago, someone got a hold of the original recordings for Let It Be. before Phil Spector had watered it down. It was released in its original raw style as Let It Be-Naked and brought forth the sounds that made the songs memorable from the movie. This was the way the Beatles intended it to be released. I am convinced of it.
Since then the Theater has turned into what is now a Thrift Store for Good Will. The movie still has not shown itself after all these years. I keep hoping that one day someone will put it out on DVD or whatever the format is at the time. I would love to see it again in its entirety and its rawness. As for now, I can only re watch that great documentary in my mind, from a hot summers day when I was thirteen years old.