After weeks of publicity and anticipation, Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back finally premiered on Disney+ last week. As I started watching the first episode on Thursday, two things became clear to me. As a long-time fan of The Beatles, it was a foregone conclusion I would write about the film. I also decided not to do a review. If you’re looking for the latter, I’d like to refer you to fellow Beatles fan and blogger Angie Moon who pens the excellent Diversity of Classic Rock blog and did a great job summarizing each of the three episodes here, here and here. Instead of a review, I’d like to share some of my takeaways.
Perhaps most importantly, I was glad to see The Beatles: Get Back is not an attempt to whitewash the band’s late-stage history. Instead, I feel it’s an effort to paint a more balanced picture of what was shown in the original 1970 documentary by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. While the majority of Peter Jackson’s film features “happy footage”, it also captures the tensions between The Beatles. That’s especially the case in the first episode where you can see George Harrison’s growing frustration – even more so in his facial expressions than his actual words. There’s also a candid conversation between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the second episode. I’ll come back to that shortly.
The task of having to complete 14 new songs for an album and a live TV show in just three weeks with no real plan looked pretty daunting, even for great writers and musicians like The Beatles – especially when you consider not all was easy-peasy between them. I also find it pretty remarkable how in spite of all the drama with George’s walkout seven days into the rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios and the uncertainty of his return, the entire project didn’t completely get derailed then and there.
One of the documentary’s most intense moments happens off-camera and is the above-noted conversation between John and Paul in a cafeteria, presumably at Twickenham. They had no idea the filmmakers had placed a microphone in a flowerpot on the table to secretly record them. That was really pushing the envelope, to say the least! Here’s a transcribed excerpt:
John: ‘Cause there was a period when none of us could actually say anything about your arrangements…
John: ’cause you would reject it all.
Paul: Yeah, sure.
John: I’d have to tell George and I would just say, you know, like you do about me…
Paul: Oh yeah.
John: …you know, I’m Paul McCartney, and a lot of the times you were right, and a lot of the times you were wrong. Same as we all are, but I can’t see the answer to that. Because you…you’ve suddenly got it all, you see.
Paul: I really don’t want you…
John: Well, alright. I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think The Beatles revolve around four people. It might be a fuckin’ job.
Paul: You know, I tell you what. I tell you one thing. What I think…The main thing is this: You have always been boss. Now, I’ve been, sort of, secondary boss.
John: Not always.
Paul: No, listen. Listen. No. always!
John: Well, I…
Paul: Really, I mean it’s gonna be much better if we can actually stick together and say, “Look, George, on ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ I want you to do it exactly how I play it” and he’ll say, “I’m not you, and I can’t do it exactly like you do it.”
John: But this, this year, what you’ve been doing and what everybody’s been doing…I’ve not only felt guilty about the way we’re all guilty about our relationship to each other ’cause we could do more. And look, I’m not putting any blame on you. I’ve suddenly realized this, because that was my game, you know, but me goals, they’re still the same. Self-preservation, you know. I know what I like, I’ve let you do what you want and George too, you know.
Paul: Yeah I know.
John: If we want him, if we do want him, I can go along with that, because the policy has kept us together.
Paul: Well, I don’t know, you know. See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.
John: Well, do you want…
Paul: If he isn’t, then he isn’t, then it’s a new problem. And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other, and we’ll all sing together.
Billy Preston’s appearance at the Apple studio on Savile Row, to where The Beatles had relocated from that awful Twickenham location, was truly priceless. He wasn’t called a “Fifth Beatle” for nothing – frankly, something I had not fully appreciated until I watched Jackson’s documentary. You can feel the immediate positive vibes created by Preston’s presence. Obviously, his keyboard work was great as well, especially on tunes like Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, using a Fender Rhodes electric piano.
I don’t mean any disrespect to Yoko Ono. I realize how much she meant to John, but I just have to say I found her constant presence right next to him really odd. Of course, she wasn’t the only guest. There was also Linda Eastman (soon-to-become Linda McCartney), but at least she appeared to have a purpose to be there taking pictures. Later on in the film, one can also see Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen Cox and Paul’s brother Peter Michael McCartney. By far my favorite guest is Linda’s giggling daughter Heather who was about to turn seven years old and who subsequently became Paul’s adopted daughter. I love how at some point she’s hitting Ringo’s snare drum when he didn’t expect it, clearly scaring him!
The first and only time I saw the original Let It Be documentary was in Germany, which I believe was in the late ’70s. Perhaps I should have watched it again before seeing the Jackson documentary. I didn’t recall that until the morning of the rooftop concert, The Beatles still had not made their final decision whether they wanted to move forward with what would become their final public live performance. Lindsay-Hogg, George Martin and all other production staff seemed to take it in stride – that’s just remarkable!
The Beatles: Get Back gave me a new appreciation of the Let It Be album. Don’t get me wrong: I always considered it a decent record, but if asked for my top picks, I’d mention Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Revolver. Now I would add Let It Be to that group.
I think the Jackson documentary is mostly suitable for Beatles fans. Folks who are new to the band or who are casual listeners probably won’t get as much out of it. While as a longtime fan and hobby musician I find it fascinating to watch John, Paul, George, Ringo and Billy in action, it’s safe to assume the constant rehearsals and even their goofing around aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Even as a Beatles fan, I have to say I’m glad this documentary is presented as a three-part docuseries, given its total running time of close to eight hours. In fact, I think they should have broken it up into four episodes of two hours each.
Sources: Wikipedia; Disney+; YouTube
12 thoughts on “Musings About “The Beatles: Get Back””
This documentary shows how great they were as a band. Sometimes the legend interferes with that fact. They were tight…I can see more now why Paul wanted to play live. The huge boat idea was out there and impractical but guess what? Now they have cruises with bands lol.
I do think John was the boss and always was but he rarely enforced it and Paul took over when he didn’t…
I can see George’s side but I can also see Paul’s side on arrangements. Hey Jude for example…George wanted to mimick the lines with guitar lines…it didn’t need that…that was a sticky point between Paul and George that was brought up in the documentary…but you have to compromise some and let others contribute.
I also liked George’s idea of releasing his own album and to keep the Beatles. That is something they could have tried. Up to that point though no one did that until CSN.
I’m going back and rewatch it several times because there is so much to take in.
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Thanks, Max, all great thoughts. And, yes, at close to 8 hours, this documentary is pretty massive. As such, it’s impossible to digest all after watching it only once.
I watched all episodes in their entirety once and portions of each a second time. While it’s fascinating, it’s also really time-consuming. I’ll probably watch parts of it again for a third time before I cancel my Disney+ one-month trial.
I have it recorded so I have it from here on out. I will watch it a few more times before the end of the year lol. There are probably things I’ve missed…no I know I’ve missed.
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I’ve been seeing so much of this – I need to dedicate some time to it as everything I’ve read, including this, makes me think it’s gonna be awesome
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If you dig The Beatles, I think you’re going to like it.
There’s a lot to digest. I’m really glad the premiere on Disney+ coincided with an extended holiday weekend in the U.S. Otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have managed to watch it!
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It’s gonna have to wait until the fat man has come down the chimney for me, it’s the only thing resembling to dedicate that much time to it
I knew you had written this but I didn’t want to read it till I posted mine. As we discussed, my own is of observations, largely of social dynamics within the band. (Because that is, of course, my expertise.) My son and I watched it together but he hasn’t seen Part III yet. So we’ll watch that together and then I simply must get my friend Bill over to see this extravaganza somehow. As I said in my post, this film is a game-changer. It modifies Beatles history as we know it.
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Makes total sense to me, Jim! 🙂
Even though I’ve never been particularly interested in what goes on personally with musicians or behind the scenes type stuff, this is probably different just because it has historical value because it’s the Beatles. And maybe I could also find out why Let it Be is their worst album. I never understood how it could come right after Abbey Road, which I think is their best album. I always thought, How could The Beatles make an album with barely a few good songs on it? It never grew on me either like I hoped it would. The Long and Winding Road and Let it Be are two of my favorite Beatles songs, and also Get Back, but that’s it. I always wondered if maybe they used up the last of their good songs on Abbey Road and maybe this was all they had left. Maybe I can find out if I watch this.
Sorry for my delayed response. While I always liked the “Let It Be” album, I wouldn’t necessarily have named it as one of my favorite Beatles records prior to the Jackson documentary. But if anything, watching the film has given me a new appreciation of the album. If you’d ask me now to name my favorite Beatles records, I’d include it together with “Sgt. Pepper”, “Abbey Road” and “Revolver”.
Also, while “Let It Be” was released after “Abbey Road,” it was actually the latter that was their final record. But when Glyn Johns presented his mixes to The Beatles, they didn’t like how it sounded. Instead of focusing to finish it, The Beatles went back into the studio and recorded one of the best albums.
Finishing “Let It Be” was left to Phil Spector. When that version of the album appeared, The Beatles weren’t happy about the sound either. In particular, Paul McCartney didn’t like it. As a result, he ended up spearheading the alternative version “Let It Be… Naked”, which was released in 2003.
Personally, I never had any bigger issues with the Phil Spector version, which became the one I initially came to like. That being said, I dig the “Naked” edits of “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be”. The other tunes sound pretty similar to the Spector mixes.
I liked the original Phil Spector version of Long and Winding Road better. I think it was one of the Beatles greatest songs. And I thought it was a beautiful, gorgeous tearjerker. But the Naked version made it sound like it was just a demo or something. Same thing with Let It Be. Besides Get Back, I guess Two of Us is okay too. Although I like David Bowie’s Across the Universe better than the original. Actually, Let it Be is kind of like The White Album for me. Not really one of my favorite Beatles albums, but still has some of the greatest Beatles stuff on it.
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I always thought that what they should have done was not release the Let It Be album, and instead they could have put Long and Winding Road, Get Back and Let it Be on the Hey Jude album in place of the oldies that are on that album. I know that the Hey Jude album was only a US release, but still, it would have been a great album even though all the tracks weren’t new. It still would have been kind of a hodgepodge album, but so was Let It Be. And it definitely would have been a better way to end their career.