The Beatles: Get Back ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Review by Andrea Carnevali
Documentary about The Beatles featuring in-studio footage that was shot in early 1969 for the 1970 feature film Let It Be. Now streaming on Disney +.
Whether you love or even care a little for The Beatles there is no denying that Peter Jackson’s 468 minutes film (that’s 7 hours and 48min divided in three parts will most likely be remembered as one of the most important music documentaries ever made. Some people might argue it is actually a historical document more than an actual documentary, and they might be right, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful or important.
Director Peter Jackson is certainly not a man known for his ability to deliver tight films. We all remember the 45 different endings of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I wondered how many of you have managed to get through The Hobbit trilogy (and believe it or not there are even a longer versions too!) and I won’t deny that there were moments throughout this ‘opus’ where I thought to myself “Mmm… this is a bit indulgent”, and yet amazingly by the time I got to the end of the third episode I also found myself craving for more.
Drawn from mostly never-seen-before footage edited together from hundreds of hours of audio and video, both of which in pristine condition, this film is not only an unprecedented window into the Fab Four which will change the narrative that’s been told over the past 50 years (which is basically that by the end the Four hated each other and Yoko Ono had a lot to do with the band splitting up), but it will also make you feel as if you were actually there, in those rooms with them, witnessing some of the mundane (“I’m hungry, what shall we have for lunch?”), the pointless (Ringo: “I’ve farted I thought I should just let you know”) but most of all giving you privileged access to the amazing insight into their creative process: through all the ups and downs, through writer’s blocks (“This sounds like the same old shit we’ve always done”), many cups of tea, glasses of wine and infinite numbers of cigarettes … to priceless moments of pure magic.
We literally see songs like Let it be coming to life from very early incarnations as Paul tries different notes in the background, while the others discuss set designs with impressive knowledge. There’s a funny off-the-cuff line in the last episode where Paul says “shall we do Let it be?” to which one of the producers replies “which one was Let it be?).
It is a mesmerising experience like I’ve never seen before: and while some of the false jeopardy (mainly though captions on the screen) feels a bit forced, the seemingly unedited footage that you get (which includes clapperboards, flash frames and long lingering shots) contribute to the feeling that you are actually witnessing unscripted real life, packed with silences, dead spaces, stumbles and repetitions but also honest truth.
And if you let go, you’ll be able to discover so many moments filled with doubts, fear, disappointments, agreements and disagreements, but also so much joy and laughter. John Lennon asks at some point “What do we do that’s fun… beside work?”
And of course, in among all that, some incredible performances too. After all these are The Beatles we are talking about. Not just their songs, but many by others, pieces which are clearly dear to them too.
Rehearsals over rehearsals, trying different pitches, different speeds, different lyrics, different arrangements. We recognise old tunes and future songs which will only appear years later (John Lennon’s Jealous Guy’s melody comes from a song called The Road to Marrakesh).
It is a weird, unshaped, seemingly aimless project which perfectly reflects the state of mind of the group back in 1969. “Is this a documentary of us recording an album?“ asks Paul at some point? Somebody from the crew replies: “There’s some great stuff in the footage, but there’s no story, no ending”.
“Can you imagine people in 50 years’ time watching this?”. It doesn’t get more meta than that and I certainly never thought I’d be able to experience this ever. Thank you Peter Jackson for making it possible.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
The Beatles: Get Back is streaming on Disney +
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