Recently my wife and I made the commitment of watching the new Beatles documentary “The Beatles: Get Back” on Disney+. Clocking in at just under eight hours, a commitment it is. The movie is edited from 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio tape made during the recording sessions of the album “Let It Be”.
In January of 1969, American filmmaker Michael Lyndsay-Hogg was tasked with filming the writing, rehearsing and recording of a new Beatles album and a possible live concert or TV show. What became of the project was the album “Let It Be” and the movie of the same name. The movie was mostly comprised of the Beatles arguing and this was fitting because one month before the film was released in May of 1970, Paul McCartney publicly announced his intention to leave the band.
Sir Peter Jackson, the famous director and producer, was given access to all of the 1969 footage and asked to restore and edit it in a new film project. Jackson called it “making a documentary about a documentary”. Jackson’s restoration of the film is incredible. Footage shot 52 years ago looks and sounds as clear and new as anything shot in 2021.
The movie provides a unique view of the world’s most famous songwriters conducting their business. To see vague musical ideas get tweeked, adjusted and fleshed out into iconic songs is like witnessing moments in history. And to see these famous musicians frustrated, struggling and finally succeeding in their songwriting makes them so much more human. Songs emerge from “Let It Be”, the future “Abbey Road” and even their first solo albums. Billy Preston stops by the studio to say hello and winds up joining the session. His keyboards become a distinctive part of the iconic album.
The Beatles seem to enjoy working together and making each other laugh. However, the film contains a few arguments and tense moments as when George Harrison, quietly but matter-of-factly quits the band and leaves. A desperate John and Paul “privately” discuss how they will win him back. Days later, George still has not returned. The director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg says to John and Paul, “it looks like our documentary is dead in the water.” John and Paul nervously joke, “we think it’s just getting going!”
The documentary’s climax is the famous rooftop concert in its entirety. This would be the last time that John and Paul would play together in front of a live audience. There is a great scene, post-concert, when the band, their families and studio crew are all in the control room enjoying the playback of the rooftop show.
Does the movie need to be 468 minutes long? Probably not. Three hours could be removed without damaging the feel of the creative studio process. The viewing experience is similar to being in the studio all day long with the Beatles. It is interesting and memorable but watching people work at any job for that many hours could be a little tedious.
The movie dispels one of the most prominent Beatle myths once and for all. Did Yoko break up the Beatles? No! Yoko is often sitting next to John but she is no more intrusive than other Beatle family members. Paul even makes a quip about the future and Yoko wrongly getting the blame for the band’s breakup.