The Beatles are biggest band of all times – many say also the best – and they remain an obsession for a lot of Boomers (and even for younger people who like catchy songs and history.). You might have thought that given their S+++ tier of fame, every scrap of footage and every note of a variant session had been pressed into a special collectors edition (with colored vinyl) by now. But you would be wrong. 150 hours of footage from the Let it Be sessions has been sitting in a vault for 50 years…and like Bilbo digging up the Arkenstone from its long slumber under Smaug, director Peter Jackson has unearthed the footage, watched it several times, used modern technology to clean it up, and made a nine-hour documentary for Disney+.
The Beatles: Get Back is exhaustive and a bit exhausting. It’s basically four guys and their squads sitting in a room trying to write songs. If it was most ordinary music superstars doing this, it’s safe to say an audience’s attention would wane after, oh, 10 minutes.
But this is the Beatles we’re talking about. The footage is crisp, the conversations intimate – Jackson used modern sound processing technology to strip away sounds so we can hear what everyone is muttering. And the Mop Tops are four of the most attractive, talented and, it turns out, gosh darn pleasant people you would ever want to meet. Not yet 30, John, Paul, George and Ringo are not sure they want to be together any more, but not quite ready to be apart.
If you’ve ever been a 20-something creator who was more popular than Jesus, you will be able to relate.
And even though they are the Biggest Band of All Times, the Beatles never had access to social media like BTS etc. So this is the next best thing! Modern music fans can watch their current idols dancing in their underwear on TikTok, rambling away on YouTube, dissing exes in stories, talking about their work on podcasts – it’s an immersive experience.
The Beatles immersive experience has had to be retrofitted from existing footage (of which there is a lot – these guys were famous – but Get Back takes it to a new level, one that Jackson himself welcomed.
Jackson’s time fantasy day would be “I wanna go to The Beatles studio and I just want to sit in the corner, not interfere, and just watch them work” he said at the North American presser for the documentary via Zoom. “Having this footage, I wanted everybody to feel it.
And the surviving Beatles know that they will be seen up close and personal. “I’ll tell you right now, you’ve got a few nervous Liverpool guys. They’ve never pulled the curtain back to this degree. You’ve gotta give them some credit for the courage.”
To keep the original time frame intact, Jackson avoided any present day looks back. “I didn’t interview Ringo and Paul today remembering what happened. I wanted us to travel through 50 years and them to come and lead us halfway. I just wanted it look as… almost as if we are in the room with them and there’s no film stock in the way.”
In al this he has mostly succeeded. There are the famous moments there – George quitting the band in the most polite and lowkey way possible – and an impossible deadline – writing new songs for and recording a whole new album in basically three weeks is a stress test even for people as talented as The Beatles.
That they still have the angelically clear skin and puppy dog eyes of their earliest days is something of a miracle tho – these Beatles are chain smokers and the tight deadline seems to have left showering optional on a few days.
Jackson invented whole new ways of making movies with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and even a few more on the Hobbit trilogy) and here he uses techniques first developed on his World War I documentary They Shall not Grow Old. The original audio was garbled at times but computer programs have been able to strip out even private conversations – and oh, the music.
“We developed this technology that allows us to de-mix, split the-all the audio components off these mono tracks. And that allowed us with the music to actually balance these songs. Which, it’s not a recording studio, it’s a rehearsal. It’s only the film crew audio, which is pretty crappy.”
But they got it remixed in ways that are, frankly thrilling, as we hear Paul write “Get Back” before our eyes. And so much more.
As most press has revealed, what was in contemporary times written up as a bitter sundering as the Beatles Broke up was, as we watch these dailies, pretty much four guys who like and respect each other but have just got other things to do. John can be a little acerbic, but he’s helpful. Paul is bossy but it’s just because he’s one of the greatest singer songwriters of all times. George gets a little insecure, but he’s still in there trading guitar licks. And Ringo…he’s Ringo
Personally, the figure I was most surprised by was….Yoko. Long hated as the person who “broke up the Beatles,” you see here thats she just minding her own business most of the time. In fact, I don’t know whose idea it was for her to sit in on all these sessions, but reading ehr body language…I think John might have dragged her along, she actually wishes was wasn’t there. She’s always reading or knitting, classic drag-along activities. The day that GEorge quits the band remarkably, they come back from lunch and to break the tension, Yoko gets up and sings some noise songs (music I’m a big fan of.) NO one seems to mind and it seems to have been needed to clear the air.
In the end, not only is the love you make equal to the love you take, but the Beatles seem to be four of the nicest people of all time, at least in these sessions. Nine hours may seem excessive but this Thanksgiving you may find hanging out with the Beatles even more pleasant than arguing with your family.
(The Beatles: Get Back is streaming over the Thanksgiving weekend on Disney+.)