Friday, 8 January 2016

MICHAEL LINDSAY-HOGG TALKS ABOUT BEATLES 1


Trendsetters in songwriting, recording, production, style and fashion, the Beatles set the bar in the field of 20th century popular culture.

Back in 1966, they took one giant step that predated the MTV revolution by 15 years with the hallucinogenic-tinged surreal whimsy and wonder of Strawberry Fields Forever, perhaps the first conceptual music video ever. For Beatles fans, a smartly assembled compendium of the group’s forward-thinking videos has stood near the top of a Holy Grail wish list that also includes the release of the group’s concert film of their 1965 appearance at Shea Stadium and their final film, Let It Be.

Now the long wait is over with The Beatles 1 and deluxe edition, The Beatles 1+, multi-DVD/CD sets culling over 50 promotional films and select TV appearances. The package is a chronological way back machine kicking off with the band’s debut single, Love Me Do and winding up with Real Love, one of the two late ‘70s era demos spruced up surviving members Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and produced by ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne.


Existing muddy, washed out and degraded versions of this material has been painstakingly restored to pristine visual quality enhanced by newly remixed audio overseen by Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin. The results are breathtaking and lend a newfound appreciation of the Beatles’ visual canon.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg, famed director of the group’s 1970 film, Let It Be, is responsible for overseeing several of the highlights of this outstanding collection, namely the promotional films for Paperback Writer, Rain, Hey Jude and Revolution along with a selection of clips purloined from Let It Be (Get Back, Let It Be, The Long & Winding Road, Don’t Let Me Down).
Read the conversation with Michael Lindsay-Hogg that details his historic visual excursions with John, Paul, George and Ringo.

-What has been your overall impression of The Beatles 1 package?
Michael Lindsay-Hogg: I thought this project, which is overseen by Jonathan Clyde from Apple, did a really spectacular of restoration, tidying up, brushing up, parting the hair in the right place on the images as well as on the sound. I think it’s a really great package. Also, over the years the clip that we shot of Rain in Chiswick House and in Chiswick Gardens was the one that I had seen more and the one you see more on YouTube.

But I think the one we did in the studio was really really good. It was interesting seeing the studio version we shot of Rain and then the Chiswick House Paperback Writer. We shot the band doing Rain and Paperback Writer at Abbey Road Studios because we were there and we had to get these songs done and then the next day we shot them again in a totally different way and a totally different look at Chiswick House.

-The first fruits of your work with the Fab Four were for the films for Paperback Writer and Rain, their first in vivid color. Did you have a game plan in mind with these films? Was the band’s manager, Brian Epstein giving you input or ideas?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: No, Brian Epstein wasn’t giving ideas but Epstein in fact was sort of putting his thumb on ideas. What happened was the Beatles themselves at that time were working on an album so that was their main focus. One of the things I learned about them is basically they’re musicians before they’re actors.

Of course, they had acted in Help! and in Hard Day’s Night  but they were musicians first and foremost. They wanted the videos to be good of course but it wasn’t their main focus. I’d had an idea for a kind of story video. Now story videos weren’t very much done at the time; I mean, videos weren’t very much done at the time. I did the Beatles in ’66 and then the Stones and then the Beatles and the Stones again in ’68. I almost did a Kinks one in ’68 also. I also did a Who one at the end of ’66.

-So you had a story idea initially for these songs?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: No, only Paperback Writer.

-What was the concept?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: The idea was they’d all be journalists working in a newspaper office but secretly one of them, Paul, was trying to write a paperback novel, and then it would be how they would help him or how they would not help him.  But it would give us a setting of a newspaper office which I thought would be interesting.

So I suggested this to them which of course in those days would have been a very low-tech newspaper office compared to what we have today. There still would have been typewriters and secretaries taking dictation or whatever. So I gave them the idea and they said, “Yeah, maybe, let’s think about it.” Then a couple of days later which was probably about a week before the shoot, I got as phone call from NEMS, which was Brian Epstein’s company, saying quote unquote, “Mr. Epstein didn’t want anything unusual, just a video of the boys performing.”

I suppose from his point of view, I guess they hadn’t been seen for a while. They hadn’t had any videos made since the ones that came along since Help! So I think he just thought it would be simpler and I’m not sure he wanted anything fancy or complicated; he just wanted  to show them performing to the world. Brian was a nice man; he was interesting. He was quite a reserved, sort of reclusive person but he said no to that so that’s why we shot Rain and Paperback Writer the way we did.

-What was the appeal of location shooting at Chiswick House?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: It wasn’t that far away and it had beautiful gardens. I thought it would be the complete reverse of a studio set up.

-Through the process of working with the band on those initial promos through the Let It Be film, was there one member of the Beatles most interested in the process?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: I think the answer to that is really to do with them and how they changed over the years. I think when we did Rain and Paperback Writer they all had more or less the same degree of interest, which was on low boil, but sure there was interest. They were interested in all their work; music and movies.

They’d made two movies and would go on to make Magical Mystery Tour. It wasn’t their primary thing they were interested in; that was always music. But yeah, in ’66, for the first two films we did, they were interested and asking, “What’s this shot gonna be?” When we came to do Hey Jude, Revolution and finally the Let It Be film, they were starting to pull in different directions because they hadn’t been touring since ’66 and they’d been starting to live separate lives, not sort of in each other’s pockets which was the way it had been since they were teenagers. I’d say that Paul was the one who was more focused on getting them all connected to a project because I think he thought if they were just wandering around in their separate worlds that it wouldn’t be so good for the Beatles. I think he was very keen for the Beatles to stay together.

-You can see that in the Let It Be film where Paul is trying to implore the rest of the band to do shows and work.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Exactly. He recognized that the original feelings they had for each other and for each other’s music was starting to fray and he didn’t want that. He recognized how absolutely transformational the Beatles had been and he knew they still had good years in them if they wanted to stay together.  So Paul was the one who was more focused on getting projects going.

-Thinking back to the shoot at Chiswick Park for Rain and Paperback Writer, what are your most vivid memories?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Well, first of all I chose that location and the most vivid memory I have (laughing) is about English weather. English weather can be pretty inconsistent. When we shot the videos, it was a gloriously beautiful day. We all turned up there, the Beatles, all the attendant road managers, chauffeurs and Brian Epstein, the vibe was very good just because it was a beautiful beautiful early summer day. That’s the thing I remember most it about it. We got great Beatles weather.

-Did Paul or anyone else in the band or management tell you to stay away from close-ups of Paul as he’d recently had a biking accident and a large piece of one of his front teeth had been broken?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: No, none of that happened. I’ll tell you one of the things that was interest tangentially. When we were gonna go and shoot Revolution I found myself walking along a corridor with John Lennon.  He was looking a little tired like he had been up late and was a little pale so I said, “Do you wanna go to makeup?” And he said, “Well, what for?” and I said, “Well, it’ll probably make you look a little bit healthier.”

    And then he said, “No.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because I’m John Lennon.”

What he meant was not that he was too grand or too famous to go to makeup, but that he wasn’t an actor pretending to be John Lennon. He was a person and as such if he didn’t look as good as he might have the day before it didn’t matter. That’s the way he looked that day. So going back to Paul and his chipped tooth, that was the same feeling they all had, which was, ‘we’re not actors pretending to be the Beatles, we actually are the Beatles and we’re musicians. If we don’t look so good today and one of us has a chipped tooth so be it.”

-Two years later you were brought in to direct the clips for Hey Jude and Revolution, which are straight ahead performances. Revolution has its own special energy due to John’s live vocal and live background vocals from Paul and George.  

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: There was some issue with the British Musician’s Union in that period, I can’t remember what it was exactly, but it had to do with playing live and miming to do with promos and to do with television appearances. So the Beatles would mime to the backing tracks and John would sing live with Paul and George singing the “shooby-doo wop” backing vocals.

Since we knew later in the day we were gonna do Hey Jude with a crowd, I spoke with Paul and the rest of the band and they felt it was important that we have a big distinction between Revolution and Hey Jude, So Revolution was filmed on purpose kind of down and dirty. We did that song in the afternoon and then Hey Jude after a short meal break on into the night. Both were filmed at Twickenham and we wanted to contrast one from the other so Revolution was down and dirty.

That’s why it starts with the four of them onstage and the lights are dark and then the lights come up and they sing it and bam it’s over. The only note I had from them was John saying to me that for the lyrics, “Don’t go talking with Chairman Mao, you’re not gonna make it with anyone anyhow” that there be a close-up on him because he thought that was the key lyric for the song and he’d written the song. I was really glad to see Revolution at the recent Beatles 1 presentation for press in L.A. was really good because that looks great!

I think it looks good and it sounds good and also shows what a great rock and roll band they are. I mean, beat that, Rolling Stones.

-There are several clips in The Beatles 1 culled from the Let It Be film you directed. The initial plan behind what became Let It Be was a TV show/documentary, what precipitated that change from a TV show to a film?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Well, that’s when the sun really shined on me. I was working in November of ’68; we’d done Hey Jude and Revolution in August and I was working on the Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, which we were gonna shoot in December. I got a call from McCartney asking, “Would I come over to Apple and talk to them for a little bit?” I mean, how lucky can you get?

So I walked from the Rolling Stones’ office to the Beatles’ office. (laughs) I went up to the boardroom and there were the four of them. It was late in the afternoon and they were drinking tea. The board room had a conference room and an area where they could eat and entertain guests. Paul said that they liked doing Hey Jude and Revolution and it gave them the idea that maybe they wanted to do a television special.

I said, “That sounds great” and then they asked if I wanted to do it with them and I said, “Christ, well yeah, double yes.” (laughs) So then as we were getting nearer to Christmas we’d meet about once a week and talk about what the television special was gonna be. None of us had a particularly firm idea of what it should be and where it should be shot but we figured we’d work it out. Then here’s where I give the credit to Paul, he said, “As well as doing a television special, why don’t we get a couple of cameras and shoot some documentary footage so that the week before the television special we can have a trailer of rehearsing for the television special?”

So I said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” So we started filming on January 2nd of ’69 with them coming into the studios at Twickenham and starting to work on the album. I was very much conscious of the fact that they were musicians and not actors. Then as we were there in between them rehearsing or when they were doing nothing but sitting around, we talked about the television special. While we were doing that two cameras were filing documentary material which was very much the B project at the moment with the A project being the television special.

Ringo had wanted to do the television special and suggested maybe we shoot them performing at the Cavern because that’s where they started and this was ten years later. And I said, “Well no, I think now you deserve a bigger stage.” I‘d heard of this 2,000 year old amphitheater on the coats of Tunisia. I thought it would be great if it starts in the dawn; they come and set up and then gradually as they warm up and as they play the music goes out across the desert; you almost follow it like little musical notes going across the desert.

It was very much a melting pot part of the world; there were Arabs and a lot of black citizens. There was an American airbase nearby and gradually as they were playing all these people would come across the desert, sort of like going towards Noah’s ark. Then by the end of the show when they were doing Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road and it would be peopled by the world. That was my idea.

Mal (Evans) and Neil Aspinall got plane tickets to go to Tunisia to scout it for security and then John had the idea that what we should do is go on a boat. We’d all go in this boat and we’d take some of the audience with us and shoot the audience as they were rehearsing. So the idea became kind of grandiose but I was all for that.

-Did the mood change among the Beatles once they moved from Twickenham Studios, the initial site of filming, to the band’s own studio?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Yes, I think the mood did change. I think the mood changed for two reason: one is they were in a recording studio even though it was pretty primitive in those days versus a movie studio. So it was a smaller space but also Billy Preston joined the team. I think he just came by to say hello and then George brought him down to sit in with the band a bit. They didn’t want to be as fractious as they had been in the movie studio. They wanted to be more collegial with Billy being there and they wanted to work more constructively and not to be showing their frustration with each other. So I think to answer your questions, it was the smaller space and Billy Preston joining in that improved the mood of those sessions.

-Tell me about the classic rooftop performance with clips featured of Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down in The Beatles 1.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Because I knew the documentary stuff was now gonna be the film of record of the Beatles, I felt we needed some conclusion, some place we’re going to otherwise it was just going to be rehearing The Long and Winding Road: and then rehearsing it again. So then I came up with the idea of doing the concert up on the roof.

Now whatever had gone on before in the interaction between them—they’d been through everything together. It was kind of like a marriage and people were starting to not get along as they had when they first got married. But when they got up on the roof they really loved it. It was cold but they had a very good time together.

    It proved to them that they were such a great rock and roll band. They could still connect and they could connect as beautifully as they’d done when they were 14, 15 and 16 when it was just John, Paul and George, before Ringo joined came along.

-Were there technical challenges you faced shooting on the rooftop?

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: No, not really. (laughs) The biggest challenge was if they’d actually do it or not. We were gonna do it the day before and the weather wasn’t good enough. Then we had all the 11 cameras there including the one down in the lobby behind the two-way mirror for the police if they came in and we thought they would. Not that we wanted the police to come but we figured that was gonna happen.

-It was kismet the way the performance ended with John’s quip, “I hope we passed the audition.” You couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Since you know it’s their last time playing in public, and since you know they didn’t know themselves it as the last time, it’s kind of beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time because if anyone ever passed any audition it was them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...