From their early days in Liverpool to the mania that turned them from a band to a quartet of musical icons, The Beatles remain to this day one of the most talked about musical acts of all time. Not just because of their mountains and mountains of hits, but also their story. Two young men, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, forming a band, the replacement of Pete Best with Ringo Starr prior to their rocket to fame and their eventual breakup.
Now picture for a moment that you have a time capsule of The Beatles near the end of their life as a band that we could open and get a good look into their personalities, their process, and their frustrations as they put together a new album in a limited time before a pair of live shows. Now imagine an Oscar winning Director getting his hands on that time capsule.
Peter Jackson has done just that with The Beatles: Get Back, and has put together a three-part miniseries out of over fifty hours of unseen footage and over one hundred sixty hours of unheard audio that takes you through their Herculean effort to put together what would be both their final live performance and final studio album.
Jackson used similar technology he used to restore footage for the World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, to remaster this fifty-year-old footage to create the miniseries.
“From their early days in Liverpool to the mania that turned them from a band to a quartet of musical icons, The Beatles remain to this day one of the most talked about musical acts of all time.”
The Beatles: Get Back starts in traditional Peter Jackson style with a lengthy prologue, documenting the band’s meteoric rise to fame and all the trials and tribulations that led them to the moments captured on camera in early January 1969. It’s long in terms of its backstory, but makes the series very accessible to people who don’t know the band’s story as well and, relative to the length of the series, is perfectly acceptable.
The footage, which was meant for a documentary to be released alongside the album and never saw the light of day, captures the Fab Four through all their fun, frustration, and the pressure that they felt to deliver something worthy of their name in an unarguably short time. The Beatles: Get Back shows that even for the best in the business, it doesn’t always come easily.
You can see, even in the early stages of the series, the small cracks that turned into the large resentments that led to the demise of the group. One early example was a cordial battle between Paul and George regarding the process of finding the sound for their album, showing a creative and philosophical divide between the quartet.
“The Beatles: Get Back shows that even for the best in the business, it doesn’t always come easily.”
As the band struggles to get together the needed number of songs, they are also pressured from outside sources to put together a monumental live performance, even considering the possibility of taking an audience aboard an ocean liner to the Middle East. It’s apparent, after seeing all this surrounding them, including the pressure to deliver as certain outside sources speak to the individuals and communicate, that the fans will have big expectations of them, that the great run of The Beatles was never going to last forever, and you can see it on their faces.
The miniseries is not all drama, though. You can see the sense of fun and friendship in the group that existed in the earliest stages of their career. They also acknowledge the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, who Paul calls out as the one who really kept the band together in terms of discipline, as well as the four young men’s occasional resilience to that discipline.
For fans of the music, you get the chance to see some of their classics in their earliest forms, watching them find the sound for Across the Universe, listening to Paul perform Let It Be for the band for the first time and George Harrison saying that he wrote a little song overnight and proceeds to play an early incantation of I, Me, Mine.
“The miniseries is not all drama, though. You can see the sense of fun and friendship in the group that existed in the earliest stages of their career.”
You can see them work through their lyrics and deal with the complications of the sound as they attempt to make the album, calling each other out for not writing enough lyrics or memorizing parts of the song in a reasonable time, all while they continue to balance their time as a band and a business.
A major highlight is found in the second episode. While cameras were not rolling on the pair, audio captured Lennon and McCartney having a very frank discussion about the issues with the band and their perceived roles in that. There is a certain amount of heartbreak in it for those who know the end of the story, as it’s like hearing two people in a marriage discuss why the marriage will most assuredly come to an end.
The business side includes (as well as the aforementioned live performance) discussions about their venture, Apple Records, the purchasing of music catalogues and logistics that continue to creep in to distract them as they try to work on the music.
“While cameras were not rolling on the pair, audio captured Lennon and McCartney having a very frank discussion about the issues with the band and their perceived roles in that.”
If you didn’t already figure it out by the Director’s credit, this is a long trilogy. Combining for nearly eight hours, the docuseries is broken up into three parts. The first is the rehearsals that end with a serious crack in the band, the second being the aftermath of the first plus the beginning of the recording sessions and the third being the completion of the album and the live performance, the famous rooftop concert.
While I can’t fault Jackson for the length of The Beatles: Get Back, given the sheer amount of footage he had to work with, the length was the only really difficult thing for me to overcome. The story is compelling, and he broke it up into the appropriate pieces to make it flow as best he could.
I suggest that if someone wants to brave the many hours, but is a generally impatient viewer of content, that they break up the three parts into more viewings because this is truly worth seeing and the duration shouldn’t be discouraging to someone looking to try it.
To a filmmaker like Peter Jackson, getting access to all this footage must have felt like someone coming across a sunken treasure. The possibilities of what could be done with this treasure would seem limitless, but I believe the director did right by all parties involved by telling an honest, nuanced story about one of the greatest bands in history rather than seek to satisfy fans with eight hours of hero worship.