You’ve heard of The Beatles: Get Back. Surely you have. Released in late November of last year, it became a blazing phenomenon that challenged decade-old perceptions, entertained Beatles fans all over the world, and proved a testament to the age-old belief that anything Peter Jackson touches (The Lord of the Rings, They Shall Not Grow Old) turns to gold.
Conceived as a ‘documentary of a documentary’, Get Back follows the Beatles as they delved into Twickenham Film Studios ahead of what would almost certainly be their last album, Let It Be. Initially, there existed the concept of the four raucous scousers having three weeks to come up with a whole record’s worth of material, before playing it live in some sort of experimental TV special.
At the same time, British director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was drafted to record a documentary about the making of the would-be live album and special, which would later be released in 1970 as Let It Be. The movie depicted the sessions as tense, bitter, sometimes outright hostile, and for half a century, that became the written truth. That the Beatles became splintered as the years drew on, and the making of their final two albums (along with Abbey Road) was not pretty, to say the least. Lennon became bitter, outwardly putting down anything McCartney wrote. McCartney became increasingly dissatisfied with the management of the band.
And that’s all you need to know, really, ahead of watching Get Back. You might wonder if you need to be some McCartney megahead, or intimately know the track listing of every Beatles release – even the US ones. But that’s simply not the case. It’s been edited cautiously over many painstaking months to create an accessible piece of media that anyone can watch. Will you love it more if you love the band? Yes, of course. Can you watch it if you only know ‘Love Me Do’? Yes.
All you need to know is that when Lindsay-Hogg released Let It Be, it was seen universally as the death knell for the Beatles, with their album of the same name proving an incredibly difficult time for Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. That’s it. You don’t need to know how Paul wrote the title track, or what John and Yoko’s relationship was like. You don’t need to have heard All Things Must Pass, or wonder what Ringo was up to.
Because Get Back does an incredible job at packing so much exposition and real-world story into eight hours. And eight hours might seem like a lot, but it really isn’t when you hit ‘play’ – descending into sessions that are full of wonder, happiness and genuine companionship. Jackson took sixty hours of footage, over a hundred worth of audio and from it found what makes Let It Be. A band that ultimately, still love eachother even after they’d been through.
There are disagreements, the odd argument or walk-out here and there, but for the most part, you’re watching four grown men laugh at eachother, eat endless amounts of toast and piss around with funny voices. Which is exactly what we needed, because it makes you fall in love with them all over again. Get Back is as much about setting the record straight as it is about following the creation of an album.
There is a structure, too, of course. Jackson didn’t spend four years editing Get Back for it to culminate in some slapdash mess of funny bits (something producer Glyn Johns has since said is essentially what Lindsay-Hogg captured). Each episode – which plays out over two hours – covers successive days of the fruitful month in which the boys would spend writing, honing, recording and editing. From the day they enter Twickenham Studios, through to moving to Apple’s in London, as well as the entire performance on top of 3 Savile Row – a now legendary moment in the history of music, standing proudly beside Woodstock, or Live-Aid.
It’s incredibly intimate, and more than once feels like a perverse course of voyeurism into a band known for their intense bond and guarded relationships with eachother. But it’s worth it just to see the creation of an album like Let It Be. When you see Paul demo-ing his new track for the first time – while everyone else is seemingly distracted by something else around him – playing the opening chords to the title track, you’re reminded that such ballads weren’t always around. You’re watching the creation of ‘Get Back’, or John and Paul getting the harmonies right for ‘Two of Us’. History in the making.
And yet this doesn’t really give anything away because there is a world to explore in Get Back, perfectly stitched together with the delicacy of a surgeon by Peter Jackson – who you know is the biggest Get Back fan of all. Every magical moment, every accidental discovery, every take and every obstacle are tackled with genuine adoration for the band. The jokes are rampant, the laughs constant and the smile-twitching camaraderie is off the charts.
You fall in love with each and every one who helped bring Let It Be to life, from the legendary George Martin to producer Mal Evans (seen happily playing the anvil in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ during early takes), or Billy Preston – the pianist of Let It Be whom the Beatles met in Hamburg backing Little Richard years earlier. You love every person who graces the camera lens.
So, should you watch The Beatles: Get Back? Yes, you should. It’s long – there’s only so many times you can watch the recording of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, admittedly – but I do think its worthy of its length. It’s not censored (Disney allowed the footage’s profanity which is pretty incredible, given their fierce protection of a family-friendly climate), but it’s not nasty. It’s the complete opposite. It just bares all, as it should.
Does it also mean you should throw away your copy of 1970’s original Let It Be, though? Well, no, because though Jackson’s creation is more faithful to history, it did also focus on dispelling the myths that Lindsay-Hogg wove. Ultimately, the truth is somewhere between both productions, and thus both merit a watch. As Peter Jackson said, ‘it [Let It Be] is still a film that has a reason to exist, and our [series] will be a supplement to it’. Get Back, however, is without a doubt the closest we will ever get to the authentic thing, with McCartney and Starr themselves finding it a refreshing jog to their memories.
So, there you are. Despite all the hype and the anxiety, the countless articles, reviews and thought pieces – the debate on the impact of Yoko Ono raging in full force again – it’s definitely worth a watch, regardless of how much you pray at the altar of Lennon & co. You don’t need to be a Beatles fan to enjoy Get Back. You just need to accept you’ll be one when you do.