Jackson’s new three-part documentary series The Beatles: Get Back approaches a similar daunting ambition. He looks at the band's intense rehearsal process for what would become their last album, approaching their final public performance on a Savile Row rooftop in January 1969.
It’s easy to imagine eyes widening at the runtimes of each episode. Part one is two-and-a-half hours, part two is close to three, and the final part plays it safe at about two hours 20. But this is only a fraction of the entire archive. Filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg loosely directed 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio, unobtrusively capturing The Beatles at that time. Over the last four years, Jackson and Park Road Post in New Zealand have precisely remastered and beautified that footage with dazzling results.
At first, Jackson accelerates through a brief history of the Fab Four: their forming in Liverpool, Beatlemania, their cinema successes, their Bigger Than Jesus controversy, and their travelling to India. This kind of propulsive editing prepares more ecstatic expectations, moving in rhythms like those in Edgar Wright’s recent music documentary The Sparks Brothers.
But those hopes are slowly dashed as Paul, John, George and Ringo – now wearing different and idiosyncratic hairstyles – enter Twickenham Studios and start playing together. And continue to play. Day after day after day.
As heavy in ambition as the documentary is, that’s nothing compared to the weight of actually watching the thing. The Beatles are deified figures, and there’s a misguided sense that watching them play for hours is historically valuable. Although it has worth (the footage was hidden for decades), must we observe them for so long with so little conflict? Even they are bored to tears.
The cursory appearances from Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney (then Eastman) gradually become tired cameos. You even feel sorry for them as they arrive and just sit there, watching their boyfriends. At least Linda has her camera and Yoko has post to sort through – we critics only have our pens and notebooks. Regardless, it’s easy to imagine the Beatlemaniacs out there: supping every mundane minute of this like it’s nectar from the music gods.
And yet despite the volume of well-tuned guff that swarms over Get Back, there’s reason in sticking till the end. Amid all the hours plucking and singing, you’re given access to their hilarious, improv-y exchanges – burps, gags and masturbation jokes – as well as the tensions that foresee their eventual break-up the following year.
The frustrations between Paul and George, the latter leaving the band at the end of part one. The visible sadness in Paul's eyes at the idea of The Beatles ending. The awkward looks between Paul and Yoko. That’s not even covering the uncertainty around the event they’re actually rehearsing for. Is it an album? Will there be a film? A concert? Where would it be? Tripoli? Brighton Beach?
Thankfully, the rooftop concert to which the series builds is a satisfying denouement, almost a suitable reward for the
hours you put in. Jackson plays out the entire performance, using entertaining
split-screens to capture the band and the streets below in real time. He even
shows the progress of the young and humourless constables who try to keep the
peace. It’s the best episode, but it's burdened by the ghastly amount of
tuning, chatting, drinking and smoking endured to get there.
The Beatles: Get Back releases episodically on Disney+ on Thursday 25, Friday 26, and Saturday 27 November.
|The Beatles: Get Back, Disney+ review
25 Nov 21 – 25 Nov 22, ON DISNEY PLUS
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