I finally caught Peter Jackson’s brilliant new Beatles’ film, Get Back, on Disney Plus. As you probably know, the film supplements the original Let it Be film (1970) with hours of previously unseen and re-mastered footage.
The results are incredible. You are immediately transported back 50 years and watch, first hand, the greatest band of all-time, at work in the studio. It’s almost like a time machine was built with the specific purpose of observing one of the most pivotal moments in music history.
Yes, Get Back charts the making of The Beatles’ final studio album (second last to be recorded, of course!) and all the attendant politicking and fall outs that happened in that turbulent period. I don’t think it’s a spoiler, though. to state that the film shows a much more complicated picture-that’s well documented at this stage.
You see plenty of bickering, of course, but you also see love, laughter, creativity and friendship. And yes, for most of it, Lennon and McCartney get on very well, thank you very much. At one stage George walks out, of course, but that aside, the atmosphere is much more convivial than previously portrayed.
Don’t get me wrong. The film is a long haul. I can’t see too many non-fans patiently sitting through it. There is a lot of sitting around jamming, talking nonsense and not doing very much else. The most absurd element is the endless debates about where the ‘concert’ would take place.
As many of you will know, the premise of the Get Back sessions (what became Let it Be) was to capture The Beatles live. The whole project was to be stripped back and without all the trademark multi-tracking and overdubbing that was the hallmark of previous albums. Back to basics and naked, if you like. All this was captured, as it happened in the studio, in documentary form.
The project was to end with a live concert where he band would perform the songs they created in the studio. This is where Jackson shows the latter day Beatles at their most excessive and absurd. There are interminable discussions over this concert venue. Everywhere on earth, it seems, from the Pyramids, to a ship, to Primrose Hill, and scores of other places, are mooted as possible venues.
It’s ridiculous. Hours of discussion over something that was never going to happen. For me, it highlights, arguably, how directionless the Beatles were in 1969. Imagine the biggest band in the world now working through a project like this without the slightest, coherent thought about the logistics of what was going to happen at the end of it?
Remember, The Beatles were already a phenomenon and yet the film shows this mega-entity essentially making their plans and logistics up as they went along. Actually, it shows how basically rudderless the band was following Brian Epstein’s death two years earlier. If the institution (and that’s what they were in ’69) was better protected/managed, perhaps they wouldn’t have imploded less than a year later?
For all that, it’s a joy to see them at work. The initial Twickenham Studio sessions are often portrayed as tough and uninspiring and the film does little to challenge that view. It’s in those early days that we see most of the tension and Harrison’s temporary walkout. There is little in that early, disjointed jamming to suggest classics were being created.
But as time progresses, we see the album take shape. Amidst all the tedium, we see great songs like Let it Be and Get Back written almost on the spot. It’s simply wonderful. We also see the transformation when Twickenham is abandoned for the more comfortable confines of the Apple Building on Saville Row. Things pick up further when the band is joined by its old friend, Billy Preston, on keyboards. That’s where the magic happens.
It ended on the roof, of course. After all that hype and speculation, The Beatles’ final live concert took place on the roof of Apple, with the police interrupting as they hoped. How perfect and apt an ending. And Jackson captures the brilliance, genius and significance of it all. It’s essential viewing for any Beatles fan.
Beatles’ fans can talk all day about how the band disintegrated shortly after or the way in which Spector changed the record into something it was never meant to be. But in watching this superb film, none of that matters. For a brief moment, the greatest band there ever was, standing atop the Apple Building, was united, defiant and where it was supposed to be. They were back.