After watching “Get Back” with the Beatles for 468 minutes, my first thought is I’m not entirely sure this couldn’t have been just a tad bit shorter. Not that I totally didn’t enjoy it and get fully immersed in the entire 3-part documentary, but some of it became a little redundant and tedious. Right around the 2-hour mark on each of the three parts, I started looking to see just how much longer this was going to drag on. That being said, I hated for it to end!
Because of “Let It Be,” the film patched together from the mountains of footage shot by director Michael Lindsay Hogg right after the Beatles broke up, the rest of this fantastic footage almost didn’t see the light of day, and what a shame that would have been.
“Get Back,” released in three parts, encompasses nearly eight hours of playtime, and gives an extraordinarily intimate, more defined, complex, and complicated picture of that month, when the Beatles gathered first at Twickenham Studios, and then moved over to the recently constructed Apple Studio, and the infamous rooftop concert in all its glory.
This new project, though, was slated to be different. For two weeks, they would assemble together, and write a batch of new songs, which they would then perform live for an audience. The entire process, start to finish, would be filmed, for theatrical or television release. Director Lindsay-Hogg, who had been chosen to direct the film, had directed episodes of “Ready, Steady, Go!”, and came highly recommended.
At first, things don’t get off to a good start. There’s a lot of messing around, a lot of playing the music that got them going in the ’50s. There’s no sense of urgency. After two weeks in, they still don’t know what it is they’re trying to even create. An album? A live television special? In two weeks? With what material? They keep coming back to the question of the live show and where it should take place.
Meanwhile, all the togetherness has the lads a bit antsy. While there are so many moments of levity and laughter, John and Paul goofing off, cracking each other up, there are also moments of tension and disagreement, but that’s a normal part of any artistic process. John is always late. Paul gets irritated often. George is over being treated like a hired hand. And then there is Ringo, calm and beloved by all. When George quits, John and Paul have a serious, private discussion, unaware of a microphone in the flowerpot. The conversation is a breath-taking glimpse of their relationship. They decide to go and ask George to come back to the band. George returns, and Billy Preston arrives at almost the same time.
It’s easy to forget just how young they all were at this point. One salient point is that not one of them was thirty years old yet. John and Ringo were 29, Paul was 27, and George Harrison was the baby at just 25 years old. No wonder George flounced off after being bossed around.
Then, just when it seems like this entire film is rather pointless and starting to stagnate, the magic happens. Everything gels at once, and the rooftop concert brings everyone back to common ground. I got chills watching it. The creative process is truly mysterious as to how it happens, and it is such a gift to watch a song take shape, through trial and error, and repeat attempts to get to the core of what the song wants to be. And these lads were magical.
Even more of a revelation, though, is the overall vibe. Watching the original 1970 film, you can’t believe those glum guys didn’t break up sooner. Here, though, it’s not as clear-cut and straightforward.
Everything about this documentary is so pure, true, and corrects the narrative that they ended badly. Was Yoko annoying? Not as much as Paul’s 6-year-old stepdaughter, dancing and poking at people while they tried to work. In fact, everyone has people wandering in and out all the time.
While there is so much here to discuss, debate and digest, what Peter Jackson has done is not so much “correct” the narrative as provide a much broader perspective, allowing those four weeks in January 1969 to breathe, and giving those men (two of whom can no longer speak for themselves) space to show themselves to us with all their complexity and humanity.
Peter Jackson created a true work of art – a masterpiece that shows us all the love, all the brotherhood. And how that creative magic weaves a spell on all of us, even today.
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].