For 50 years, the fixed narrative viewed the Beatles’ “Let it Be” recording session as a miserable experience with a band where the members were fed up with each other, fed up with their work and in the process of breaking up.
The nearly 8-hour documentary produced by Peter Jackson, drawn from films and discarded recordings of those sessions, instead reveals a self-conscious band with a rare connection and work ethic that still knew how to have fun, but was also in the works. to break. until.
The Get Back series runs over three days starting on Thanksgiving on Disney +.
Produced by a Beatlemaniac for other Beatlemaniacs, it can be a grueling experience for those not in the club. But the club is quite big. Beyond the delights it offers fans, Get Back is a mind-blowing look at the creative process of a band that remains popular half a century after it ceased to exist.
Jackson, the Academy Award-winning creator of the Lord of the Rings series, was discussing another project with the Beatles when he asked what happened to all the discarded takes from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 film Let it Be. .
There were nearly 60 hours of film shot over three weeks, mostly unseen, and the band had been considering what to do with it. Jackson took that material, as well as 150 hours of audio recordings, and spent four years building a story.
He approached with the fear that it might be a depressing job.
Lindsay-Hogg’s film is considered a chronicle of the band’s demise, unfairly, in Jackson’s view, because it was released shortly after the breakup was announced. The individual Beatles reinforced the notion with negative comments about the experience, where they had given themselves a very tight deadline to write and record new material in preparation for a live show, with cameras following it all.
“I waited for everything to go wrong,” Jackson said. “I waited for the discussions to start. I waited for the conflict to start. I waited for the feeling that they hated each other. I waited for all the things I had read in the books and it never showed up. “
Oh, there is conflict. The story overshadows the pleasant moments revealed in the discarded takes, such as John Lennon singing “Two of Us” as a Bob Dylan impersonator, or him and Paul McCartney challenging each other for rehearsal without moving their lips. Jackson restores balance.
“The connection was incredible,” recalled drummer Ringo Starr in a recent Zoom interview. “I am an only child (but) I had three brothers. And we take care of each other. We take care of each other. We had some fights between us, that’s what people do. But musically, every time we counted one, two, three, four, we wanted to be the best we could be. “
Jackson follows the sessions day by day from their beginning on a cavernous film set that was eventually abandoned in favor of his well-known London recording studio, to the brief rooftop performance that was the last time the Beatles performed in public.
The filmmaker is sensitive to the idea that he was hired to “sanitize” the sessions, noting that “Get Back” represents George Harrison briefly leaving the band, an event that Lindsay-Hogg was not allowed to show.
That moment unfolded after a morning in which Harrison watched, in silence, as Lennon and McCartney showed their close creative connection by working on “Two of Us” as if the others weren’t there. When it was time for lunch, Harrison had something more permanent in mind.
“I’m leaving the band now,” he says, almost naturally, before leaving.
After a few days and a couple of band meetings, Harrison was convinced to come back. The morning he does it, the movie shows him and Lennon reading a false report in a newspaper that they had come to blows and clashed in boxing stances to poke fun at it.
Along the way, Jackson’s project dispels and reinforces pieces of conventional wisdom that has solidified over the years.
Myth No. 1: McCartney was a control freak.
Verdict: Partially true. The film shows Harrison visibly irritated with McCartney giving him and other band members instructions on how to perform and cajoling them into making a decision about a live concert. The band had been somewhat aimless since the 1967 death of manager Brian Epstein. McCartney had taken on the role of “dad” and is not entirely comfortable with it.
“I’m scared to be the boss, and have been for a couple of years,” he says. “I don’t get any support.”
Myth No. 2: Yoko Ono disbanded the Beatles.
Verdict: Is not true. She is there in pretty much every recording session, but mostly as a benign force sitting next to Lennon. The other Beatles spouses appear in the studio, though not as often. At one point, McCartney even makes a prophetic joke about her.
“It’s going to be incredibly funny 50 years from now; they broke up because Yoko sat on an amp, ”he says.
The afternoon after Harrison left, the remaining Beatles clearly expressed their frustration with some aggressive and atonal music, and Ono took over his microphone, a riveting moment.
Myth No. 3: The Beatles had essentially become four solo artists, with the others accompanying each other’s songs.
Verdict: Is not true. They collaborate, seek and receive advice constantly. At one point, Harrison confesses to Lennon that he has had trouble completing the line that became “He attracts me like no other lover” in “Something.” Lennon suggests using a nonsensical phrase – “draws me like a cauliflower” – until something better comes along.
Throughout the film, viewers can see how McCartney’s song “Get Back” came about by crafting a riff on the side, for him and Lennon to exchange lyrical suggestions and pitch an idea into a song critical of anti-immigrant sentiment. full band working on the arrangement. Satisfied with the end result, it is Harrison who suggests releasing it immediately as a single.
“Seeing them working together is a hugely important artifact, not just for Beatles fans but for anyone who’s creative,” said Bob Spitz, author of The Beatles: The Biography, published in 2005.
Myth No. 4: The footage showed the Beatles breaking up.
Verdict: Essentially true. It is clear that Lennon and Harrison’s enthusiasm for being the Beatles is waning. Lennon is clearly in love with Ono; McCartney tells Harrison and Starr that if he ever had to choose between her and the Beatles, Lennon would go with her.
Harrison, growing up creatively, is uncomfortable with his supporting role. Talk to Lennon about making a solo album because he has enough songs written to fill his “quota” on Beatles albums for another decade. As if to prove their point, the Beatles rehearse Harrison’s majestic “All Things Must Pass,” but refuse to record it.
In the movie, Lennon and Starr also discuss a meeting with Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein about taking over the Beatles business, heralding a bitter split with McCartney.
“Everything is full of mini-stories,” Jackson said.
Jackson, who was expected to make a mainstream documentary, said he was nervous about bringing his final product much longer to McCartney, Starr and the Lennon and Harrison families.
“But they came back and said, ‘great, don’t change a thing,'” he said.
Among the priceless moments he unearthed is the joy on the Beatles’ faces as they performed on the studio roof. The movie shows all the acting, the Beatles rising to the challenge and having a great time doing it.
When the police finally put an end to it, the band and entourage retreat to the studio and listen to a recording of what they have done.
“This is a very good rehearsal for something else,” says producer George Martin.
That, unfortunately, was not the case.