The Beatles: Get Back | Documentary Review
Updated: Feb 17
When Peter Jackson rewrote Beatles history
by Elena Brand
photo courtesy of Guitar World
Get Back is a three-part series with revisited, advanced sound and picture quality of the source material from Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary Let it Be. Following the Beatles’ writing and recording process of the album with the same name, Let it Be is notorious for the exposure of arguments and tensions among the band in their final years. Peter Jackson, describing Get Back as a ‘documentary of a documentary,’ had over 60 hours of film footage and more than 150 hours of audio recordings at his disposal. With a total running time of almost eight hours of behind-the-scenes footage, some of which had already been used in Let it Be, is Jackson’s project worth a watch?
Episode One starts with a brief, sentimental introduction to the Beatles and their career up until the filming of Let it Be, which merges into their first day rehearsing at Twickenham studios on the 2nd of January 1969. The band aims to write and record 14 new songs, ready to be performed for a live concert in only two weeks. With unsuitable equipment in an unfamiliar, dull environment and nobody on piano, spirits are running low, and the approaching deadline makes creative differences boil to the surface. Among the build-up of tensions, however, Jackson manages to capture and translate the magic that is hidden in the excess of unseen footage. Paul McCartney writing ‘Get Back’ from scratch is mesmerising, inspiring, and sets the tone for what this band achieves in a multi-faceted arc of recording an iconic ‘last’ album. But, with frustration increasing every day, the episode concludes with Harrison quitting the band.
Episode Two begins by disclosing that the attempts to get George back were unsuccessful. In an intimate conversation among the crew, film director Lindsay-Hogg asks Paul whether he used to write more with John back in the day, to which he answers yes, and that this is because they used to spend more time together: ‘But it’s gonna be such an incredible sort of comical thing, like, in 50 years’ time, (people will say) “they broke up cause Yoko sat on an amp!” (…) It’s not as though there’s any sort of earth-splitting rows or anything.’
I will go so far to say that such conversations disprove the theory that the Beatles would have persevered if it weren’t for Yoko or that Paul was a control freak who ran the ship into the ground.
McCartney undeniably presents as the most motivated of the group but not to the extent of acting as ‘band manager’, which is a label that has been assigned to him ever since the breakup. Yoko is there a lot, but she presents passive and more moral support for John instead of a thorn in everyone’s eye. Lennon arrives around noon and the infamous lunchtime conversation unfolds, addressing the ‘festering wound’ that is Harrison being treated as the tertiary member. The group decides to reconvene with George, and after a productive conversation, followed by the decision to relocate to a studio at Apple Corps headquarters, the atmosphere is changed. In a quaint room with George’s own 8-track kit and EMI gear, the group waits for the sound crew to be ready and meanwhile messes around with covers, early songs and making fun of the newspapers that drag them through the mud. There are more laughs and banter at last, and once Billy Preston comes to visit, he kickstarts the Beatles’ creative processes by joining on piano.
Watching the writing process of iconic songs such as ‘Two of Us’ and ‘Across the Universe’ is transcendent.
Episode Three opens with a wholesome scene of Ringo pitching ‘Octopus’s Garden’ to George, who helps him figure out where the song could go. The dynamic between the two is a treat to watch, and when Linda (soon to be McCartney) visits the studio with her daughter Heather, we get to see Paul as the family man that he is about to become and how caring his friends are with Heather. With the concert date approaching, the idea has come up to perform on top of the studio building. Peter Jackson ends the series with a full-length version of the Beatles’ final concert, simultaneously showing the crowd in the London streets and a baby-faced police officer in his 20s threatening to arrest people, followed by the group listening back to what they have achieved and loving every minute of it.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this series to any fan but if eight hours seem too long of a time to invest, one can summarise that love and laughter outshined arguments in the Beatles final years and that the recipe to success is toast with marmalade.