The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+) is a grueling, but ultimately rewarding, watch. Can’t see many watching it in its entirety; but for musicians all over the world, it will be a revealing, even enlightening study of musical genius, the creative process, and a debunking of several myths and commonly held beliefs about the band, and it’s demise.
Cobbled together from over 60 hours of previously unreleased recordings, director Peter Jackson has gifted us with an ‘edited’ eight hours, and I’m not going to mince words, claiming every minute is worth its weight in gold. It is an ordeal to sit through, but there are quite a number of golden nuggets to make the journey a worthy ‘fly on the wall’ look, as the band puts together 14 new songs and rehearse for what would turn out to be, their final live performance as a band.
If there’s one strident truth that reveals itself, it’s that Yoko Ono has been unfairly cast as the villain, the one pointed to as the most responsible for the band’s break-up. She sits so quietly through the hour upon hours of the sessions, I’d actually give her a gold medal for being such a silent companion to John. If it was me, I’d have toured museums, left for shopping, or even gone outdoors to watch the grass grow. But no, she’s such a trouper, quietly standing and sitting by her man.
And you can’t level the accusation that John forced Yoko’s presence on the rest of the band. We see Linda Eastman with her daughter Heather spending countless hours and days to be with Paul, plus visits by George’s Pattie, and Ringo’s Maureen. If anything, we understand why Pattie and Maureen just drop by, rather than being such fixtures in proceedings where they don’t really have any input. So it looks like Yoko was an easy mark; and if we’re being honest, her being foreign and such an enigma may have contributed to the media of the day to turn her into some manipulative ‘witch’, and make that picture stick.
The documentary faithfully captures the band at a time when individual creative urges were pulling them apart. In fact, in Part 1, we actually see George resign & leave, saying he’s had enough. Revealing is how John and Paul then think they’re having a private conversation (they don’t know that then Director Lindsay-Hogg had left microphones in the flower vases), and honestly discuss how they’ll have to visit George, and what it’ll take to get him back.
Equally revealing is the truth to the idea that bringing in a guest will put everyone on good behavior. When keyboardist Billy Preston – who they met in the early Hamburg days, and was touring with Ray Charles- is brought in to be a ‘fifth’ Beatle on electric piano for these sessions, you can’t believe how much banter, camaraderie, and impeccable behavior is suddenly the norm. It’s like they’re Liverpool lads at heart, and want to make a good impression; even if, in fact, they’re the Beatles, and Preston is more like a session musician who has been brought in to enrich the instrumentation and arrangements.
If anyone had lingering doubts about what a talent and creative force Paul McCartney was (and is), this film will dispel all those doubts. John is the genius joker of the group, and he does show great creative chops; but Paul is the tireless one pushing for them to rehearse properly. And watching him literally compose some of the songs like Get Back, Let It Be, and Don’t Let Me Down, out of thin air, is downright scary/inspirational.
And never let it be said that Ringo was a mediocre drummer. He patiently waits out the creative give and take of John and Paul, their arguing and needling each other; but the moment he’s asked to lay down the drum work and percussion, he is so impressive and dependable.
George comes out a fully sympathetic figure. He was already composing really great songs, but as the hit songs were all tagged Lennon/McCartney; you can see how his late flourishing was always being relegated to last priority. More than John, you can understand how leaving the band was really the only option left for him, if ever he was going to get out of the Beatles shadow. Witness how his All Things Must Pass keeps getting dismissed from making the rooftop concert song list.
You’ll love how often the band plays around, changing time signatures and lyrics, putting on accents, as they rehearse the songs – just to keep it fresh and stave off boredom or routine. Lennon is the supreme master of this; and it’s a great glimpse into his wry sense of humor and penchant for physical comedy.
Of course, the documentary culminates with the legendary live concert held on the rooftop of Apple HQ, and how stunned the people on the street were, and how the police weren’t sure how to handle the ‘public disturbance’. It’s a fitting way to end this film, leaving us with a wistful ‘what could have been’ – if things here and there had been done differently, and they had lasted a few more years. There’s smart use of the split-screen here.
If you love The Beatles, and the history of music; you will have to watch this, and you’ll be happy you did. Happy, as it also shows us how we’ve been led down a ‘wrong and blinding’ road for such a long time.