Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Beatles: Get Back


Directed by Peter Jackson, The Beatles: Get Back is a documentary film series that expands on the footage with hours of unreleased material that didn’t make it to the 1970 Michael Lindsay-Hogg documentary film Let It Be about the band’s attempt to make a new album in January of 1969 that culminated with their final live performance to the public. The documentary that features newly-remastered footage as well as material that expands the rarely-seen Lindsay-Hogg documentary from 80 minutes to nearly 8 hours of material. The result is an astonishing and rapturous film from Peter Jackson that manages to bring some new revelations into the story of the Beatles in their final year as a band.

It’s January of 1969 as it had more than a year since the death of their manager Brian Epstein and more than two years since the band had played live to the public as a recent filming for the promotional video for the single Hey Jude where the band was surrounded by an audience gave them an idea. The idea would be for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr to create new songs for an upcoming concert appearance to be filmed on television in the span of a few weeks as Starr is set to leave to act in a film project for Apple Corps in The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers. The project called Get Back is an attempt of the four to become a band again and to create new music without overdubs and edits and the new songs to be performed live.

Told in the span of 22 days, the film that became Let It Be as it hadn’t been shown publically since the 1980s showcased a fragment of what was happening as it was released to coincide the album of the same name which was released at the time when the Beatles had called it quits. Nearly 50 years later since the release of the film and album of the same name, filmmaker Peter Jackson went into the vaults where he found more than 60 hours of footage and 150 hours of audio that hadn’t been heard as his discovery of the footage along with restoration work lead to revelations of what was really happening in these 22 days. Amidst all of the turmoil and tension that was looming throughout the band over creative differences as well as the lack of leadership when it comes to business. There was still this air of joy of these four men from Liverpool who not only loved making music but also wanted to be a band again instead of this brand that was already recognizable and at times, too big.

Broken into three parts, the film breaks the month into the three settings and events in the course of these 22 days as it does follow the narrative of Let It Be where the first act is about the disastrous sessions at Twickenham Studios that lead to Harrison briefly quitting the band, the second act being about the band moving to Apple Studios on Saville Road and Billy Preston’s arrival, and the third act being the rooftop concert which would be their final performance and the last session of the project afterwards. What Jackson does is follow that narrative but reveal so much more to the story as it is more about a band trying to become a band again and create new songs while showcasing the work that goes through in creating a song. The first part of the film is devoted entirely to the band at Twickenham Studios where they had shot the video for Hey Jude as it would be used as a rehearsal/recording space where the band would try to create a bunch of new songs for a TV special where the band would play to a live audience with these new songs with Glyn Johns being the main producer and the band’s longtime producer George Martin sort of being the executive producer though Johns and Martin were both unsure of the roles they’re playing.

Among the people who are seen throughout the film is filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg, cinematographer Anthony Richmond, longtime road manager/assistant Mal Evans, Yoko Ono, Linda Eastman, and roadie Kevin Harrington. Ono’s presence in the film reveals that she did nothing to disrupt the band creatively as she mainly kept herself quiet while knitting a few things, doing a bit of art, and all sorts of things and only speaks up whenever McCartney and Starr wanted an opinion from her. McCartney would comment in the film about the press and how vicious they are following Harrison’s brief departure with claims that Lennon and Harrison got into a fight (untrue) and knowing that Ono would be the scapegoat as McCartney made the famous joke that the band broke up because Ono sat on an amp. What Jackson is able to reveal in Ono’s role not only redeems her but also reveal that she was treated greatly by the other members of the band as there was a brief shot of her and Linda Eastman giggling in the first part of the film.

The second part at Apple Studios doesn’t just showcase a band trying to enjoy playing together and get some new ideas for songs but also reveal how Billy Preston got to be involved as he was in London doing a few TV appearances as he was someone the band met back in Hamburg in 1962 when he was playing for Little Richard. The band asked if he could just jam with them and his role in playing organs and the electric piano not only liven up the music but also the band themselves. The film also showcases idea of music theory and how accomplished Preston was in that as the Beatles themselves weren’t accomplished in music theory as his role did a lot to give them new musical ideas. The jams are also a key component to how songs are made where the band play covers for the fun of it and then get an idea for a song as it among these little things that inspires them.

The film also reveal other moments during the first and second part as it relates to business as there’s an appearance from the band’s publisher Dick James on the songs he acquired for the band’s Northern Songs catalog as it is a rare moment where they were seen with James in a cordial way instead of the other stories into their relationship that ultimately led to James selling Northern Songs to ATV without the band’s consent. Other Beatle cohorts/Apple officials such as longtime assistant/Apple Corps chief Neil Aspinall, publicist Derek Taylor, and Apple Films producer Denis O’Dell also appear in the film talking about business with Lennon talking about having the Rolling Stones’ then-manager Allen Klein as their new manager. There’s a scene in the third part where Lennon and Harrison have a conversation about Klein that lead to the band’s first meeting with him which is one of several scenes not filmed including an audio conversation between Lennon and McCartney late in the first part.

The third part of the film where its climax is the rooftop performance does feature some enjoyable moments involving Linda’s daughter Heather who would have some conversations with John, play additional percussions with Starr, and even do her own imitation of Ono in a version of Dig It. Mal Evans is a key player in the songs in banging the hammer on an anvil for Maxwell’s Silver Hammer as well as provide additional percussions on a song which showcases why he is an important figure to the band. Even as he would do whatever he can to stall the cops during the rooftop concert as Jackson shows the concert in real-time from the reaction of the people on the streets to those complaining and the police trying to understand what is going on. Yet, the concert also reveals the level of excitement from Starr’s wife Maureen Starkey who got a closer look in watching the band perform live while was also jovial upon listening to the recordings of the songs.

Since the original film by Michael Lindsay-Hogg and shot by Anthony Richmond on 16mm film that was originally meant for television as it lead to the grainy look of Let It Be. Jackson along with Damian McDonnell on the restoration work with additional visuals from Darwin Go not only manage to flesh out much of Richmond’s photography but also reveal something vibrant in how the footage at Twickenham looks as well as the scenes in Apple Studios and the rooftop concert. The footage of those scenes from the film plus the newly-discovered footage add a bigger scope from the 1:33:1 aspect ratio of Let It Be to the broader 1:78:1 aspect ratio as well as showcasing multiple perspectives during the rooftop concert in three split-screens with editor Jabez Olssen not only creating this real-time perspective of the band, the audience, and police at this concert but also the reaction from the people on the street and on the roof of other buildings nearby. Olssen’s editing in the footage that had been released also does more in showcasing the energy of the recordings as well as some montages and small moments such as Starr giving Ono gum which she split with Lennon.

Sound editors Brent Burge and Martin Kwok, with music mixing by Giles Martin and Sam Okell, do incredible in cultivating the 150 hours of audio with in capturing the many outtakes and versions of some of the songs by the band along with some future solo songs from Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. The mixing in those songs have a lot of breath into how an instrument sounds as Martin’s contribution is crucial as he has been the one overseeing all of the remastering and such of the Beatles’ music that his father George had produced.

For a film with an eight-hour running time that has been broken in three parts, Jackson has managed to create something that is immersive as it showcases a moment in history that is corrected after years and legends that have been told about that period. Yet, there is also an element of melancholia that looms in the film knowing that the band would break up in the year to come with several people in the film that are no longer here. John Lennon, George Harrison, George Martin, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor, Billy Preston, Dick James, Linda McCartney, and Maureen Starkey have all passed on as they’re now in another universe yet they were all a part of something really special. Something that is never going to be matched or replicated as the music itself still stands for generations to come to discover what made the Beatles so great and so revered as well as the people who played with the band, worked with them, and supported them be just as important.

The Beatles: Get Back is an outstanding film from Peter Jackson. It is a film that not only showcases an important period in time for the band but also reveal so much more about that time and how much these four men loved and cared for each other despite their own issues with one another. It is a documentary that isn’t just a must for fans of the Beatles but it is also a film that showcases what it takes to make great music and what it means to be in a band and finding joy in being part of something that is great and fun. In the end, The Beatles: Get Back is a magnificent film from Peter Jackson.

Peter Jackson Films: (Bad Taste) – (Meet the Feebles) – (Braindead) – (Heavenly Creatures) – (Forgotten Silver) – (The Frighteners) – (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) – (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) – (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) – (King Kong (2005 film)) – (The Lovely Bones) – (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) – (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) – (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) – (They Shall Not Grow Old)

The Beatles: The Albums: Please Please Me - With the Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles for Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Magical Mystery Tour - The White Album - Yellow Submarine OST - Abbey Road - Let It Be

Compilations: (1962-1966) - (1967-1970) - Past Masters - (Live at the BBC) - (Anthology 1) - (Anthology 2) - (Anthology 3) - (1) - (Let It Be… Naked) - (Love)

The Beatles Films: (A Hard Day’s Night) – (Help!) – Magical Mystery Tour - (Yellow Submarine) – (Let It Be) – (The Beatles Anthology)

Related: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Across the Universe - Nowhere Boy - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Good Ol' Freda - (Eight Days a Week-The Touring Years)

© thevoid99 2021


Ruth said...

Though I enjoy their songs, I'm not that familiar w/ the Beatles but I so want to see this one! I didn't realize Peter Jackson does documentaries too, but sounds like this one is well worth checking out.

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-Actually, it's his second documentary. Yet, this is something everyone needs to see and thank God for Disney+. I wish my dad would watch this in person as he would've loved this. We can forget about Let It Be the documentary as Jackson here doesn't just do more with the restored footage as well as footage that was unreleased but also manages to correct a little bit of history. I just got the book for Xmas as I'm just so happy to know that the Beatles still have that power to get people excited.