Chris Connor reviews Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back…
Following its announcement in 2019, Peter Jackson’s Get Back chronicling the infamous recording sessions for The Beatles final album Let It Be has had fans in a whirlwind of excitement. Drawing from 60 hours of video footage and 150 hours of audio, the project uses footage shot in January 1969 by Michael-Lindsey Hogg, condensed here into a 7 hour miniseries which seeks to reframe the relationship between the four members.
Peter Jackson of course began his move into documentary filmmaking with 2018’s acclaimed They Shall Not Grow Old which saw restored footage from the First World War used to dazzling effect. He has employed similar colour restoration techniques here making the footage look impressive throughout and the restoration is not too distracting.
The series counts down the days rehearsing and recording at Twickenham and Apple Studios over a 3 week period working to both record a new studio album and perform for the first time in several years. The series culminates in the first full showing of the Apple Rooftop concert which would be the group’s final performance and is among one of the group’s most iconic moments.
The series opens with a short medley of highlights from the group’s career prior to 1969, encompassing their feature films, performance on The Ed Sullivan Show and iconic albums like Rubber Soul and Sgt Pepper. This helps to set the scene for where we find the Fab Four in January 1969 and we are immediately introduced to the members and an assortment of crew for the production of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Get Back documentary film. Part One focuses entirely on rehearsals at Twickenham studios and sees the group tinkering with material each member has brought. Some of the early rehearsals are fascinating, offering rare glimpses at very early demos of some of the group’s final songs, such Paul playing a very rough cut of Get Back to Ringo and George.
One of the highlights for fans of the solo careers of John, Paul and George in particular will be seeing very rough cuts of tracks that would eventually find form on their solo records, including Jealous Guy and Gimme Some Truth from Lennon, All Things Must Pass from Harrison and Another Day from McCartney. Similarly we are treated to early glimpses of material that would ultimately be used on Abbey Road which was recorded later in 1969 with early takes on tracks like Mean Mr Mustard, Oh Darling and Something coming from the Let It Be sessions.
While it can at times be frustrating to hear multiple takes of Don’t Let Me Down or I’ve Got A Feeling, it is ultimately rewarding to hear the how the songs would take form and see the group’s process, something we have rarely seen to such an extent on camera before. The synergy between John and Paul especially is clear to see and even when relationships between the four were at their most taut they were still clearly having a fine time when playing music, jamming and gently mocking each other.
Structuring the series around the efforts to make the record and plan how to capture the live performance adds an extra dimension and a narrative to proceedings. Moving from more sporadic jamming in the opening episode to eventual recording and the concert itself in the final episode makes each part feel fresh and if these are long, with part II clocking in at nearly 3 hours, the time feels necessary given the amount of footage Jackson had to work with.
Periods of jamming and conversation help to humanise the members giving us a sense of what they were like as actual people. Conversations about a sci-fi film on TV the night before and other bands like Fleetwood Mac and Canned Heat help to show the group’s interests and that they still had lives away from each other.
The rooftop concert is the main draw and captured here in its full glory it is an absolute joy to behold. One After 909, Dig A Pony and I’ve Got A Feeling from the live recording were used on the final Let It Be record which was eventually released in 1970 and heralded the group’s breakup. Seeing the crowd’s reaction to the performance is intriguing and shows the spontaneity of the performance.
The Beatles: Get Back is a remarkable achievement chronicling both the angst felt by the group which would result in their split but also the kinship and closeness that had led to much of their success at such a young age (they were still in their 20s at the time of Get Back). It is equal parts funny, sad and above all else a sign of their musical prowess showing like few other documentaries have the process of their song-writing from inception to the finished project.
While it may seem a daunting prospect for those who are more passing fans of the group, there is a wealth of material to be invested in for the die-hard fans offering a fresh perspective on the tales that have been widely told over the years. While the rooftop gig is perhaps the standout, there is much to love in the 6 hours that build up to it and in some of the tedious and mundane footage is where some of its brilliance lies capturing The Beatles at their most relaxed and goofy while showing signs of the cracks in their relationship.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★