I cannot stop thinking about, and reliving moments from, The Beatles: Get Back (2021). The Husband and I watched the eight hours of this remarkable film achievement as director/producer Peter Jackson offered it: in three parts. We did two consecutive nights starting Monday, and then a break for two days, finishing it on Friday.
The Beatles: Get Back covers the making of The Beatles‘ album Let It Be (1970), which had the working title, Get Back. It uses never-before-seen footage and audio material originally captured for the identically titled 1970 documentary of the making of the album by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. It covers 21 days in the studio as The Beatles rehearse for a new album, concert and film project, and climaxes with the full 42-minute rooftop concert. Jackson described it as “a documentary about a documentary”, as well as a “tougher” one than Let It Be, since it includes controversial events such as George Harrison‘s brief walk-away from the band, which the original film did not covered.
Jackson spent four years making the documentary. It was created with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the widows of John Lennon (Yoko Ono) and George Harrison (Olivia Harrison). McCartney:
“I am really happy that Peter has delved into our archives to make a film that shows the truth about the Beatles recording together“.
“There was hours and hours of us just laughing and playing music, not at all like the Let It Be film that came out in 1970. There was a lot of joy and I think Peter will show that.”
Jackson managed to have Disney allow the inclusion of profanity, with viewer discretion warnings at the start of each episode. Jackson:
“The Beatles freely swear but not in an aggressive or sexual way. We got Disney to agree to have swearing, which I think is the first time for a Disney channel.”
The first striking thing about Get Back is the definition of the archive footage. Compare it with a clip from Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary, that footage was grainy and lacked saturation and contrast.
Day later, I still feel stuck in 1969. Get Back has really got a hold on me. The Beatles charisma and their rapport can’t be separated from their recordings, but their appealing public personas have almost as much to do with their legend as the music they made. When their gay manager Brian Epstein watched the band perform for the first time in 1961, he was struck not just by their appearance and sound but by their sense of humor and charm. Even though the band was approaching the precipice when they made Let It Be, Get Back is crammed with the Beatles’ charisma and charm.
I am a Beatles fan, and I have been since I was 10 years old. The first album I purchased with my own money (made from mowing lawns) was Meet The Beatles!, the band’s first American album, released on Capitol Records, on January 20, 1964. It was Number One on the Pop charts on February 15, 1964, and it stayed at Number One for 11 weeks before it was bumped off by The Beatles’ Second Album. The cover featured Robert Freeman‘s iconic portrait of The Beatles first used in the UK for their first release With The Beatles (1963), but with a blue tint added to the original stark black-and-white photograph.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I am still a fan. I have seven books about The Beatles in my library and all the albums on CD, including remasters, rarities, previously unreleased material, and soundtracks.
As a kid, my parental units hated them, which always seemed odd to me, they were only in their early 30s, but they still gave me a Beatles album for Christmas every year until the end of the 20th century, when we agreed to stop giving each other presents.
I know some of you must be tired of The Beatles by now, or maybe you have never been a fan. Just give it a few centuries for the fuss to die down.
Jackson presents the film without talking heads or narration. Watching Get Back felt like being in a studio with a talented group of friends who happen to be among the best songwriters of all time. Spend enough time in the company of the creativity of 1960s culture, and the present seems drab by comparison. The Beatles: Get Back is a vibe that’s difficult to forget and impossible to replicate today. It is a rare thing: a documentary about making a documentary. Get Back is much more than an examination of The Beatles’ decline. It’s a special look at the act of creation, the magical moments when inspiration strikes along with the more tedious work when those first few sparks are fanned into flames. Get Back brings The Beatles’ late-1960s creative process to film in a much more nuanced and compelling way than the 80-minute the documentary Let It Be. Familiar as the songs are, it’s wondrous to see how they were born.
On a very personal level, my takeaway includes the observation that McCartney has the most luxurious hair, the most ambitious vision, the best work ethic, and most of Let It Be’s best songs. Get Back, shatters the notion that he broke up the band. In fact, he was the last to leave and the most committed to keeping The Beatles together. Get Back also shows how McCartney’s controlling ways were pissing off Harrison and Lennon, while they were also the impetus for The Beatles to make music.
Ono does not come off as the dragon lady who broke up the band. She and John are deeply in love, and they just want to be near each other. She just hangs out while they write and record. There is a lovely moment when she huddles with McCartney’s girlfriend Linda Eastman and they look like they are having fun and sharing secrets.
I found new love for Starr, who is the glue that keeps the band together. Sweet, hardworking, the oldest, the most mellow, and the quickest with comic relief. Starr was happy to be in a much-loved band and to make its music better. He shows up on time, he is open to input and prepared to play. And when he isn’t catching a quick nap, he was working out the chords to his song Octopuss’s Garden with a little help from his friends. He is just adorable, with those big soulful eyes and loopy grin. He is also the snappiest dresser, with run for his money from Harrison.
I was also a bit dreamy over George Martin, the band’s tall, elegant, producer-arranger-conductor-audio engineer, often referred to as the “Fifth Beatle” in reference to his extensive involvement in each of The Beatles’ albums. Martin’s son Giles Martin serves as musical director for Get Back.
Also gaining the moniker on “Fifth Beatle” is gay keyboardist Billy Preston, who brings the undeniable greatest point of joy in Get Back: the moment he shows up at Apple headquarters on Savile Row and records with the band. The Beatles all greet Preston warmly, and then Lennon casually asks him if he wants to be on their record:
“Every number’s got a piano part, and normally we overdub it, but this time we want to do it live. I mean, just live to ourselves, straight-on, one after the other. And that means having somebody in on it. So if you’d like to do that, you’re welcome. And then you’d be on the album.”
Preston, with a huge smile, replies:
“Sure, beautiful. Are you kidding?”
They were not kidding. The next thing we see is Preston at the keyboard figuring out the now-iconic electric organ riff on I’ve Got A Feeling, making being brilliant look easy. Both McCartney and Lennon are grinning as they play, and you can feel the band clicking in a way that hadn’t before. Preston’s presence during the Let It Be recording sessions helped ease tensions.
When the song ends, Lennon says: “You’re in the group”.
Harrison adds: “Electronic piano is such a great sound!”
Lennon: “You’ve given us a lift, Bill. We’ve been at this for days.”
Preston’s incredible talent, his generous smile, and his joy seem to pull The Beatles out of their funk.
The next day, The Beatles talk about Preston, and Harrison says that he wants to make sure he gets properly paid. Lennon counters with: “I’d just like him in our band, actually. I’d like a fifth Beatle.”
McCartney quips: “I just don’t know. It’s bad enough with four”, which makes the others laugh.
Preston was only 16 years old when he first met The Beatles who had not yet risen to fame at the time. Preston was a self-taught prodigy keyboard player and was playing with Little Richard when he met The Beatles while on tour in Hamburg in 1962. He acted as a kind soul towards the penniless band, sneaking them food and drinks.
Preston never officially became the fifth Beatle, but when they released Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down as a single and B-side a few months later, it was credited as “The Beatles with Billy Preston,” which was the only time another artist was credited as a co-performer with The Beatles.
White Horse Pictures and Homegrown Pictures have partnered on a new as-of-now-untitled documentary about Preston directed of multi-Emmy award-winning director-producer-writer, Paris Barclay (In Treatment, Glee, Sons Of Anarchy).
Need more? Preston’s #BornThisDay is here.