The Long and Winding Road to the Beatles’ Anthology: The 1970’s
By Sara Schmidt
By Christmas of 1970, fans were disappointed that the Beatles documentary film, The Long and Winding Road had not materialized. Of course, they were not yet aware of the complex legal issues that would put a stop to the film for the next 25 years. On November 15, 1970, the legal issues began when Paul McCartney filed a lawsuit against John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Apple to dissolve the Beatles. Things got worse in early December when Paul and George met in New York City and got into an intense argument over the lawsuit. This argument supposedly was the catalyst for Paul to further is lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles and on December 31, 1970 a request was made that a receiver for Apple be appointed until the case was settled. With Paul suing the Beatles and Apple, he was no longer willing to participate in the “Long and Winding road” film project. Neil Aspinall had no choice but to shelf the project for all of 1971 and most of 1972.
|Paul and Linda during a court hearing|
George spoke of this in a 1995 interview on Today-Tonight, “This film has been around in various forms for –well since 1969. And it laid there for years. It was tentatively called “the Long and Winding Road,” but at that time everyone was annoyed at each other. We were all splitting up. We were tired of being in the Beatles.”
Unexpectedly in November 1972, apple made an announcement about the film. According to the statement, Apple said that they are comping a film entitled, “Ten Years in the Life of the Beatles.” This is the first time the film wasn’t referred to as “The Long and Winding Road.” Ringo Starr was quoted as saying at the time, “We are getting together all the clips we own to show the change in our music and our attitudes to life. It’s kind of All our Yesterdays.”
|Ringo Starr in late 1972|
There isn’t much information about how much work was done on the project during this time. It also isn’t clear how much input the individual Beatles had on the film during 1972, but from what Ringo said in November, each of the Beatles were going through his personal archives for footage to add to the film. Apple must have thought the film was almost ready in November because the final part of the announcement said that the movie would be released in cinemas in early 1973 along with a Beatles Greatest Hits package.
However, 1973 came along and there was not any more information about the release. However, in March of 1973 a meeting was held in Los Angeles with John, George and Ringo. One of the topics of discussion was the double albums known to fans as the “Red” and “Blue” albums. John was not pleased with the compilations and during the meeting, discussions were held about postponing the release. However, the two albums: Beatles 1962-1966 and Beatles 1967-1970 were available in stores on April 2, 1973. While the promised “Greatest Hits” album was out, the documentary film was never mentioned.
By 1974, the four members of the band were beginning to get along once again. Legal matters were starting to be settled and they were working on Ringo’s solo album, even if separately. It would not seem too far-fetched to see the film released during 1974, especially when Paul McCartney said on February 25, “As soon as things are sorted out we can all get together again and do something. We’ve talked about it, but haven’t been able to do anything because this has been going on.” No one was certain what that “something” Paul was referring to, but the film project would have been a big possibility.
On November 16, 1974, John Lennon appeared on the U.S. morning talk show, “Today.” He spoke on many subjects including the mystery documentary. He said, “There is a film in the offing that’s comprised of all the films we’ve collected from all the tours and all the interviews over the world, which will be called ‘the Long and Winding road’ no doubt.” Hope was even stronger at the end of the year at Disneyworld. At this happy place, John was the last member of the Beatles to sign the papers that dissolved the group. It wasn’t until April 9, 1975 that the London high court announced, “All matters in the dispute between Mr. McCartney and John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr have been fully settled.” While the legal issues between Paul and the other three were settled, they still were not legally free to work on any project because of the legal issues between Apple and Allen Klein, which would not be fully settled until January of 1977.
Between 1975 and 1976, Neil Aspinall continued to work on the documentary. At this point the film was 90 minutes long and included gems such as the Dezo Hoffman home video footage, Beatles home movies from India and other rare discoveries. When Neil was finished in late 1976, he sent one copy of each Beatle to show them current version of the film.
|Neil at work at Apple in the 1970's|
Elsewhere in Great Britain two comedians, Eric Idle and Neil Innes were working on a television program called “Rutland Weekend Television.” One of the skits for the second season of the show featured a Beatlesque song called “I must be in love.” Eric Idle, wanting to make an inexpensive sketch, got the idea to make a short that parodied the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s night” using the black and white style of the Beatles first movie. On October 2, 1976 Idle went to New York City and was the host of Saturday Night Live. He brought along some of the shorts from his Rutland Weekend Television program. The audience had the best reaction to the Beatles' parody. By the time Eric Idle returned to SNL, this time bringing Neil Innes with him, on April 23, 1977, the Beatles’ parody, now known as the Rutles, was a popular reoccurring sketch on their program. When they did a Rutles sketch on SNL, it again had a great response from the audience. Idle talked to SNL producer, Lorne Michaels about his idea of making a mock Rutles documentary for the BBC. Michaels loved the idea and said that Idle should do the film for him on NBC. So the Rutles documentary, “All you Need is Cash” was conceived.
|the Rutles-- I must be in love|
George Harrison was good friends with Eric Idle and Neil Innes and he loved the idea behind the Rutles documentary so much that he wanted to be involved in the project. George appeared in the movie as a news reporter. However, George also provided Neil Innes with a very important key to making the Rutles documentary look authentic. Harrison lent Innes his copy of the 1976 version of the Beatles Long and Winding Road documentary film.
The 1976 version of the Beatles film was used exclusively for the feel and layout of “All you Need is Cash.” The Rutles movie showed several re-created scenes that were actually in the Beatles’ version. The clothing, movements and camera angle of the Rutles match the Beatles to a tee. One identical scene is the 1963 home movie footage shot by Dezo Hoffman where the Beatles are racing Go-Karts. However, these details were lost on most Beatle fans in 1978, because much of the footage had never been see by the public. The mentioned Dezo Hoffman home movies were first shown on television in the U.K on “The Tube” television program in 1980.
The Rutles did more than just recreate scenes from the Long and Winding road, they used actually footage from the unseen documentary, apparently, with the Beatles approval according to an interview Neil Innes gave to Q Magazine in 1996. “The Beatles were very good about it. They allowed us to use lots of their old footage, stuff that eventually became the bones of the Anthology and inter-cut it with newly filmed Rutles sequences to give it more authenticity.”
|The Rutles performing Get up and Go|
With all of the work done to make the Rutles film as much like the Beatles film, one would have thought that when the “mockumentary” premiered on NBC at 9:30pm on March 22, 1978 it would have been a huge success. But the opposite was true. “All you Need is Cash” was the lowest rated program on U.S. televisions that week. While it fared better with U.K. audiences, it really is no surprise that the movie bombed. With the Beatles documentary still in Apple’s vaults and unseen by fans, it was difficult to get what the Rutles were a parody of. Sure the fans knew the Beatles’ story from reading various books, but in 1978, when things such as the Cavern club performance of ‘Some Other Guy’ had yet to been seen by the public and even the Ed Sullivan performances hadn’t been seen by many fans for 13 years, many of the jokes of the Rutles were hard to comprehend. Perhaps if the Beatles had released their film prior to 1978, the Rutles movie would have gotten better ratings. Today “All you need is Cash” has become a favorite film of Beatles fans who now can appreciate the humor.
The late 1970’s was a popular time for the Beatles to be in the news. In 1977, they had a number one album with “Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” The rumors of a Beatles reunion were running rampant and promoters were willing to pay millions of dollars for one Beatles concert. In April of 1978, a board meeting was held to discuss the re-organization of Apple Corps, which lead to more reunion rumors. With the Beatles being back in the spotlight, talks began yet again about releasing the documentary. According to Paul McCartney, ten unpersonal form letters to a variety of directors including Spielberg, Scorsese, Michael Apted and Ridley Scott were sent out to see if they were interested in directing the film. Steven Spielberg, who was making E.T. at the time, recommended Martin Scorsese; however, he was never directly contacted aside from that original letter. It was then decided that an unknown director would be best, but since no one ever came to mind, the project once again faded away.
Banking on the Beatles popularity, a Broadway musical called “Beatlemania” opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City on May 26, 1976. It had a 1006 show run until October 17, 1983. The Beatles did not approve of the performance and on November 28, 1980, John Lennon wrote a legal statement using the unreleased documentary as a reason for the production to cease. His statement read, “I and the other three former Beatles have plans to stage a reunion concert, an event to be filmed and included as the finale to “The Long and Winding Road,” the official Beatles produced documentary that is to be released in the mid-1980’s.”
Sadly, ten days after writing that statement, John Lennon was murdered, putting a tragically unexpected end to any chance of a reunion of the four Beatles. It is unknown if John’s statement was based on any plans that were set by the Beatles to release the film along with recording a concert in the mid-1980 or if John made that statement to put an end to the Broadway show. Regardless of his motives, after his statement was read in court in June 7, 1986, the producers of “Beatlemania” had to pay Apple $10.5 million for using the Beatles’ songs and likeness during that period.