The Beatles – Get Back documentary review

Posted on 7 December 2021
By Andy Johnson
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Four lads from Liverpool who shook the world… We know the story inside out. But if you were born in recent decades, with the echoes of Beatlemania faded into history… you might wonder why they broke up at the peak of their powers and played their last live show on a listless London rooftop?

This documentary from super fan and legendary filmmaker Peter Jackson paints an entirely different picture from the frenzy of infighting and litigation that entered legend.

Above all else, it shows compromise and empathy are essential to make any marriage work, musical or otherwise. The fascination and joy of watching their song writing process first hand, hooks you immediately.

The original Let It Be film, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, is too painful to watch, as it focuses tightly on the tension and feud between George and Paul, while John and Ringo look on bemused.

When Harrison famously says: “I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play.” You can see on Paul’s face he sees this as the beginning of the end.

Much maligned as the catalyst for their breakup – the Let It Be sessions captured over 60 hours of unseen film and 150 hours of audio. The frustration within the group is painful to watch.

You feel you’re sat in the middle, just like Yoko, witnessing the end of the world’s greatest band and there’s nothing you can do about it. Apart from eating toast and slurping tea, which seems to be what got The Beatles through most challenges.

George shows he had a different understanding of what they had agreed to, when he asks surprised: ‘So are they recording all our conversations?’

This eight hour documentary will no doubt cause a lot of Beatle heads to switch their fave Mop Top. You will connect with each one in a new way. You see why they became disenchanted with the idea of ‘being Fab’.

Tasked with creating an album and a show in two weeks, the pressure on the group is palpable. Prophetically Paul envisions them playing somewhere they shouldn’t and being hauled away by the police mid song: ‘She came in through the bathroom window… snatch!”

Their time in Hamburg gets mentioned a lot, as though it’s a shared reference that shows if they survived that experience, they can get through anything.

John seems to be stoned out of his wits at the start, but as they leave Twickenham and head for their Apple HQ, we see his razor sharp wit emerge.

When George Martin suggests that they’ve got the best takes for Get Back and if not, they can be edited together.

John shoots back: “Edits!? How dare you sir, we are The Bootles!”

Paul comes across as a tough taskmaster, but he admits to craving discipline at work. The conversation where he brings up how much they miss the guiding hand of ‘Mr Epstein’ is telling.

Also he repeats the need for ‘an aim’ in their work. He says he’s ‘scared of being the boss’ and after George leaves the band, the others coolly call his bluff.

One of the most riveting moments comes from a secret conversation between Paul and John about George and the ‘festering wounds’ they’ve allowed to take hold, caught by a mic hidden in a flower pot.

You can see why George needed to stick up for himself. He often comes across as irascible, but understandably so, after sharing a song so powerful as All Things Must Pass and getting a tepid reaction from the best song writing duo of all time. George’s clothes, with his pink and green guitar, steal the show style wise.

There’s also the steady beat of Ringo to enjoy. Always the first to arrive, he often seems to be just hanging in there – after being the first Beatle to leave the group. The scene where he starts crafting Octopus’s Garden with George is a lovely moment.

When they eventually land on the idea of playing a show on the roof in the cold bluster of January, George is characteristically unenthusiastic, but goes along with the plan.

What follows in 40 minutes of unbridled joy as we watch how the events unfolded, with Jackson deftly using a split screen to show as much footage as possible, including the pair of strikingly young bobbies, who try to tackle the disturbance of the peace with threats of arrest, but look totally out of their depth.

If only The Beatles had been arrested, maybe being in the clink together would have allowed them more time to work out their differences.

Get Back is worth the Mickey Mouse streaming subscription fee alone.

The Beatles: Get Back is now streaming on Disney+