Musings About “The Beatles: Get Back”

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.

george harrison left the beatles

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…
Paul: Yeah.
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

Pix & Clips: The Beatles/Get Back (Teaser)

Even if you’re not a Beatles fan and as such haven’t followed the upcoming Get Back documentary by New Zealand film director, screenwriter and film producer Peter Jackson, there’s probably no way you haven’t at least heard of it, given all the publicity push around the film. Here’s the latest teaser I just saw, an excerpt of Get Back from The Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance, their final live concert.

While I’m generally not a fan of hype, The Beatles are my all-time favorite band, so I definitely look forward to the documentary. Since I watch very little TV these days and have never been into binging, I’m very happy Get Back will be presented as a three-part docuseries. Even for a Beatles nut like me, the thought of watching six hours in a row would be pretty daunting.

The Beatles: Get Back, as it’s officially titled, will start airing tomorrow (November 25) exclusively on Disney+ with the first 2-hour installment. Episodes two and three will follow on Friday and Saturday, November 26 and 27, respectively. I wonder how many temporary subscribers Disney+ got because of the docuseries.

Here’s some additional background on the documentary from The Beatles’ official website:

The docuseries showcases The Beatles’ creative process as they attempt to write 14 new songs in preparation for their first live concert in over two years. Faced with a nearly impossible deadline, the strong bonds of friendship shared by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are put to the test.

The docuseries is compiled from nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, and from more than 150 hours of unheard audio, most of which has been locked in a vault for over half a century. Jackson is the only person in 50 years to have been given access to this Beatles treasure trove, all of which has now been brilliantly restored. What emerges is an unbelievably intimate portrait of The Beatles, showing how, with their backs against the wall, they could still rely on their friendship, good humor, and creative genius. While plans derail and relationships are put to the test, some of the world’s most iconic songs are composed and performed.

The docuseries features – for the first time in its entirety – The Beatles’ last live performance as a group, the unforgettable rooftop concert on London’s Savile Row, as well as other songs and classic compositions featured on the band’s final two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles website; YouTube