And so finally, here it is, The Beatles ‘Get Back’. Actually when I got up at 5am to luxuriate in it, it was still three hours away, but as soon as 8am rolled around, Disney+ was on and Peter Jackson’s project began. This still seems strange to me that the director of Meet The Feebles has created the most anticipated documentary of 2021, but I guess everything is a little strange this year. Of course, as you probably know, this was going to be a cinema film before The Plague began. But now, instead, we get a three part multi hour epic. It’s strange as in preparation, I watched Anthology again, which is still highly watchable and entertaining, but it speeds through everything very quickly and you wish it would slow down a bit and show us under the hood. Jackson has got under the hood alright, in fact he has ripped off the hood and sat in the space where it was. If you want to hear a million versions of Get Back, then here is your opportunity – I’m guessing this preciseness will probably drive non-Beatles people crazy, hearing the same few seconds of a song, over and over, with the lyrics growing each time and then repeating, just as it happened. This is especially true of the first hour, when they don’t really have much material, so it is just a few little seeds of ideas. Even Yoko ends up just reading a newspaper while this is going on, but this also leads to magic later as you hear things being heard for the first time. When Paul sits down at the piano and tosses off Let It Be or The Long And Winding Road, you see the other faces in the room light up and it is jaw droppingly fantastic. These tunes you have heard a million times, being born. Now, in 2021, we perhaps have grown to expect this, TikTok videos from the studio and constant selfie updates from our favourite artists, but to see this beautiful footage from the late 60’s is incredible.
The film is such great quality that while they were playing the songs, I found myself just looking at the surroundings, there is a glass of beer here and a pair of maracas there. George always seems to be enjoying a big plate of toast and marmalade, even using his love of breakfast as an excuse for being late on one day. Brilliant. You really feel for George during some of this footage – you are stuck in between the maelstrom of Paul and John, just trying to do something simple while Paul always seems like the cool drama teacher who you forget is in charge and suddenly chastises you. I guess if you want perfectionism, you have to be a perfectionist and Paul is it.
The elephant in the room is perhaps that whilst this is documentary gold, Let It Be as an album isn’t in my Beatles favourites. There are great classics on it, the title track and Get Back are more than worth the price of admission but then Maggie Mae, I After 909 and Dig It should really have been left on the Shepperton cutting floor. Watching this glorious footage, you realise that by putting themselves so against the clock, they created magic but then also there was always going to be filler. In fact, some of the best moments here don’t even feature songs from the Let It Be record…
Yes, it is amazing hearing Carry That Weight, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (I was today years old when I learned that is an actual hammer being played on the song) and even Gimme Some Truth gets a welcome airing. On the flip side there is some ridiculous Yoko yodelling, which sounds like a dog got on the studio mikes, but then you could also argue that this was the sorbet that cleaned the palette of the band and let them feel free to come up with more expansive ideas. Luckily it didn’t make the album and no, I don’t play Revolution 9 either, even though The Beatles is in my top three albums of all time, so there is history here. And after years of Yoko being constantly portrayed as a ghoul, it is nice to see her here as ‘merely’ John’s love and then up there involved in their art. The footage of Linda Eastman is beautiful too and her photos of the action are utterly magical, as you will know if you picked up the book of the series already, which, you probably did. If not, get it now!
There is so much content here and talk that you know leads to things in the future, the praising of Billy Preston, George constantly complimenting Eric Clapton (when George leaves and they try to convince him to come back, John flippantly retorts “If not, we’ll just get Eric in”, ouch) By the end of this first two and a half hour adventure, which flies by incidentally, you forget that you are watching an historical picture, rather like Jackson’s recent war documentary, the only thing that shows you it is not being recorded in 2021 are all the massive machines and wires, the lack of cell phones and the fact that everyone spends the hour film smoking – oddly, this is the first film I have ever seen which in the pre-show warnings brings up the cigarettes, 2021 there. Strange. In another perfect modern twist, there is a moment when John walks in and casually says “What’s up cats and kittens?” and suddenly I thought he was quoting that bitch Carole Baskin, which showed how modern slash timeless this footage seems.
The film ends on a cliffhanger, sort of, I was annoyed that I had to wait another whole day to find out whether the band gets back together and then, again, I realised that I already know all the history, but that is how invested I was in what I was seeing, it felt like right now in a magical land where all four Beatles were alive and well. And now I am listening to the album again and it seems to have been given so much insight and background now that the songs now sound more fleshed out and also personal. Tomorrow we find out if they will agree to play on a ship to a select audience of fans from home or play a massive outdoor amphitheater or as is often suggested give up on the gig idea entirely. Don’t at me, I KNOW where they play, it is just another magical example of the story seemingly playing out in real time and I am right here for another few hours of Beatles brilliance and whatever crazy fifty disc boxset we get (back) on Blu-Ray.