In 2021, it is almost impossible to say anything new about The Beatles. You could fill several thousand very large holes in Blackburn, Lancashire with what’s been written about them over the years – and still have piles of books and magazines, endless rows of computer servers left over. To quote John Lennon: “There is nothing you can know that isn’t known.”
John never met Peter Jackson though. The Oscar-winning Lord Of The Rings director has been a Fabs fan since he was hobbit-sized – and in 2017 he hit the Beatles jackpot. Asked by the band’s multimedia company Apple to make a new movie about them, he was given access to nearly 60 hours of unseen footage from the recording of ‘Let It Be’. The material was originally meant for American filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 doc, but has gathered dust in storage for more than half a century.
Jackson’s resulting Disney+ series makes excellent use of that material. Split into three parts – each more than two hours long – the narrative is laid out in episode one. It’s January 1969 and John, Paul, George and Ringo haven’t played a gig in three years. Their last single dropped four months ago. Paul worries they’ve “gone a bit shy”. So, a challenge is set: write 14 songs in 17 days before recording them live at a big comeback concert. Oh, and it’ll be immortalised in a TV special, directed by Lindsay-Hogg.
Quite the task, then. But as we know, things didn’t go to plan. Parts two and three chronicle the departure (and return) of George Harrison, the TV special getting binned and, naturally, the iconic replacement show on Apple HQ’s rooftop – which we finally get to see in full. After decades of old, tired stories getting respun, retold and republished, Jackson’s work offers a fresh look at pop’s greatest group. It could even change how you see them.
John, originally the de facto leader, is oddly reserved (stoned) during the early sessions at Twickenham. Permanently flanked by Yoko, he seems to let Paul take the lead. McCartney, looking the best he ever has with a slick haircut and bushy beard, adopts the role of taskmaster, pushing the others and keeping them on schedule. George, meanwhile, is emerging as a skilled songwriter – when the others stop to hear a rough demo of ‘I Me Mine’ it feels important, like they’re seeing him for the first time. Ringo… well, Ringo’s Ringo.
Gradually, things start to break down. We see clips of the band bickering, frustrations boiling over and Harrison’s sudden decision to quit. In one scene, Lindsay-Hogg hides a microphone under a flower pot and captures a mesmerising conversation between John and Paul where they discuss George’s “festering wound” of discontent. There is much that is explosive in Get Back – and a lot of it has only been recovered thanks to Jackson’s state-of-the-art ‘demixing’ technology, which splits different audio tracks so we can hear them properly.
Despite the action, things can occasionally drag. There are long stretches of the boys sitting around, not doing much – and casual viewers will definitely switch off. With about seven hours of runtime, Jackson might have slashed his editing knife a bit more too. And yet, as he told NME last week: “Anything I didn’t include in this movie might go back in the vault for another 50 years.” So why leave it out?
By the time the third lot of credits roll, fans will have adjusted to the film’s glacial pace anyway. For diehards, the slower moments may even end up giving the most enjoyment. Who wouldn’t want to watch Macca piece together the melody for ‘Let It Be’ over 15 minutes of canned choruses and rejigged refrains? Or glimpse Ringo, after a long period of fuck all, sheepishly plodding out ‘Octopus’s Garden’ on the piano, looking up to check if anyone’s listening? What about Linda and Yoko laughing in a corner, decimating five decades of sexist tabloid nonsense in one frame? It is precisely because of Get Back‘s lax editorial policy that it succeeds. You might not be able to say anything new about The Beatles in 2021, but Jackson hasn’t tried. He’s shown us instead.
‘The Beatles: Get Back’ will be released on Disney+ in the UK. Part one is streaming now, parts two and three arrive on November 26 and 27