“The Beatles: Get Back,” Peter Jackson’s 468-minute documentary on the making of the Beatles’ final album “Let it Be,” now streaming on Disney+, asks music fans to rethink some commonly held beliefs about John, Paul, George and Ringo’s January 1969 recording sessions and the demise of the band.
The fifty-plus-year-old fly-on-the-wall footage, originally shot for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary “Let It Be,” has been salvaged, cleaned up and portrays a band that may be frayed at the edges, worn thin from years of constant pressure and the recent loss of their manager Brian Epstein, but still able to create timeless music. The film puts to rest notions that Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, or that George’s frustrations with his role split them apart, or that ego drove a wedge in the group or that manager Allen Klein’s aggressive business practices were to blame.
The real culprit? Familiarity. Stress. Who knows?
What is made clear by “Get Back” is that there was no one thing that led to one of the most public band divorces in rock history.
The downer atmosphere of Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary is missing. With the restored, sparkling audio and picture comes a new, sunnier take on those recording sessions. The bond between the band members is clear, even if tensions arise from time to time.
There is a definite family vibe between them, made stronger when McCartney’s wife Linda and daughter Heather are on the scene, playfully interacting with the most famous musicians in the world. Linda and Yoko chat, roadie Mal Evans cavorts and Lennon introduces the band as “The Bottles” as they work their way through songs like “Get Back” (the writing of which takes up a substantial chunk of the film), “Let it Be” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” At the end of the final take of “Let it Be” Lennon playfully says, “I think that was rather grand. I’d take one home with me.”
It’s fascinating to see them take the germ of an idea and massage it into fruition. It shows the camaraderie, the experimentation, tension, tedium and talent it takes to mold a thought into a song.
Along the way there are charged moments. John and Paul earnestly discuss George’s (temporary) retirement from the band. There’s a candid conversation between Paul and the studio techs about John and Yoko’s relationship, off-the-cuff performances of old rockers from the band’s Hamburg days like “Rock ‘n Roll Music,” and, of course, the climatic rooftop concert on London’s Savile Row.
Mostly though, it’s an intimate window into the professional and personal world of the Beatles. At upwards of 8 hours (spread over three episodes) it’s a hang out film for fans. There is no real narrative momentum, save for disagreements with Lindsay-Hogg regarding what form a live performance of the new songs will take, just a remarkable, exhaustive document that sheds new light on Beatles folklore.