The Beatles – Get Back Dir: Peter Jackson

It’s finally here! The much anticipated/hyped documentary based around the mostly-unseen footage shot of The Beatles making their Let It Be album/film is now available to stream on Disney+.  Having watched the first of the three “episodes”, here are my initial thoughts.

Full disclosure…I love The Beatles. I am one of those fans who believes that, with a very few exceptions, every song, every album, is a work of genius. Another disclosure…I am not a huge fan of massive Peter Jackson epics such as The Lord Of The Rings films or King Kong…give me Heavenly Creatures any day.

So, with that in mind, here we go…

This first of the three films is 2 hours and 36 minutes long and covers just 7 days. Those days are January 2,3,6,7,8,9 and 10, 1969 (even Beatles take the weekend off).

The BeatlesThe mood is jovial as the Fabs reunite after a holiday break…”Happy New Year, Ringo”…but then the band quickly gets down to business as they have (for some unexplained reason) given themselves just a couple of weeks to write and record a new album in front of a camera crew and then perform these new songs at some unspecified and un-thought-thru concert setting.

It immediately becomes clear that self-managing may not have been a wise choice after the death of Brian Epstein in 1967, and this topic is, indeed discussed by the band, who is referred to as “Mr. Epstein”.  In fact, just about everything is discussed at length in this film by the band members, the director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the recording engineer Glyn Johns, Mal Evans, George Martin…the only folks who seem to want to allow The Beatles to be The Beatles are the ever-present Yoko (who comes across as patient and loving) and Linda Eastman…soon to be McCartney…who, it could be argued was a more distracting presence than Yoko as she is taking photos throughout the time she is there.

The personalities of the four fabs quickly emerge…Ringo is stoic and patient, perched on his kit, quietly waiting for the next song. John is amiable…possibly a bit stoned…and enthusiastic. Meanwhile George comes across as both insecure and frustrated…he extolls the virtues of his friend Eric Clapton while downplaying his own guitar playing skills but chaffs when his songs are not given the same “respect” as John’s and Pauls”.  And Paul just wants to get the job done.

To be honest, that’s pretty much the picture I had going into this film. From the overly-cheery lead-up to the release with quotes from Jackson says how much fun the band was seen to be having instead of the more sombre tone of the Lindsay-Hogg film, I was afraid that this was going to be a concerted effort to re-write history and re-position the band as just four friends having a good time, making music.

Instead, there is plenty of inter-band tension…mostly coming from George who, by Day 3, is engaged in his famous argument with Paul…”I’ll play whatever you want me to play”…etc. That little exchange goes on a bit longer here (what doesn’t) but it accurately sums up the situation. Paul, meanwhile, is very self-aware. There is a self-imposed deadline looming and he wants to meet it and so finds himself taking charge…”I’m scared of being the boss”, he confesses.

But there is plenty of joy to be found here as well. Despite complaining that they have no songs…Beatle  future classics seem to be bountiful…Two Of Us, Across The Universe, Let It Be, ummm Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

My favourite moments are the creative insights…while the crew is setting up on Day 4, Paul is nonchalantly sitting with his bass writing Get Back. The creative juices are flowing, but we see George yawning.

Speaking of George… after spending the evening at home watching TV…he is inspired to write I Me Mine, and the little gem of a tune is presented almost fully-formed the next morning.

Beatle fanatics will love the in-jokes and asides…with Ringo refusing to leave the country for any proposed live show, Paul quips, “Us and Jimmy Nichols may go abroad”.

I was in heaven as I watched John and Paul stand face to face working out Get Back on Day 7 and there is lovely footage of Yoko and Linda commiserating while the band practices in the background.

Throughout the 2 and a half hours, The Beatles love of music is demonstrated as they play snippets of old (and new) favourites by themselves and others…a trio of Dylan tunes is heard…The Mighty Quinn, I Shall Be Released and Mama You Been On My Mind (sung by George). Also heard…a bit of Hank Williams, Chuck Berry…and future solo tunes such as Another Day, Gimme Some Truth and All Things Must Pass.

As this first episode ends, things take a decidedly dark tone…

“Maybe we should have a divorce”, says George

“I said that at the last meeting”, replies Paul.

And so it goes.

Yes, this is a long slog for those not caught up in the Beatles myth. The actual film making/editing  is OK, but not particularly notable. And the location, a huge soulless film studio at Twickenham, seems exactly the opposite to a what is needed to make everyone feel comfortable and creative.

But for hard core fans like me, this is unmissable. So, time to Get Back to the second episode!

Marty Duda