The Beatles: Get Back review – eight hours of television so aimless it threatens your sanity | TV & radio
TThe Beatles’ 1970 album Let It Be and its depressing accompanying documentary have always been scarecrows among old Fabs. John Lennon called the music “badly recorded shit”; Paul McCartney was so horrified by the album that he devised a new version in 2003, devoid of the additions of Phil Spector, which Lennon employed as a producer without telling McCartney. None of the Beatles showed up at the premiere of the documentary; Ringo Starr objected that he was “very tight” and had “no joy”.
Peter Jackson’s Get Back is a documentary series designed to address Starr’s concerns. It shows a larger, ostensibly happier picture of the band’s doomed 1969 plan to write a new album, rehearse the songs, and perform them live over the span of two weeks. Whether the Get Back sessions hastened the Beatles’ demise remains debatable, but a preponderance of footage featuring songs sung with funny vocals, on-camera assaults, and jokes can’t stop the early sessions at Twickenham Studios from sounding like to misery.
Harrison is alternately gruff and pungent, as you might be if you brought in a song as good as All Things Must Pass and got a lukewarm reception. Lennon is visibly, joyless, stoned with his gourd. Valiantly trying to get things done, McCartney continues to slip into passive-aggressive hugs. Things are not helped by the director of the original documentary, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who insists the group perform in an amphitheater in Tripoli – “Torchlit!” In front of 2,000 Arabs! – and is heroically fearless by various Beatles telling him where to put his idea.
He’s still there when Harrison lashes out and can’t be persuaded to return, a move McCartney really seems to think signals the end of the group. As Macca sits mournfully in Twickenham, eyes full of eyes, Lindsay-Hogg seizes the moment: âI think we should have a good locationâ¦â The Beatles have apparently gone their separate ways, but the dream of Tripoli and its Torchlight Arabs endure.
Things get better when the band scrambles to a studio at Apple HQ – at least for the Beatles. For the spectator, it is another matter. Jackson is not a director known for the brevity of his approach – his version of King Kong is twice as long as the original; his Hobbit movies turned a 310-page novel into eight hours of cinema – and that’s what proves it here. The three episodes of Get Back are almost eight hours long. There are undoubtedly some Beatles maniacs who think this is incredibly stingy – there is a set of pirate recordings of the Get Back sessions that fills 89 CDs – but, for anyone else, its length can sound like a schlep.
There are some fantastic times. Lennon and McCartney’s eyes locking as they harmonize over Two of Us; the gentle and futile attempts by producer Glyn Johns to deter Lennon from the seemingly blameless genius of Allen Klein, a con artist whose involvement precipitated the demise of The Beatles and ended in litigation; Lennon’s delighted cry of “Yoko!” As McCartney’s six-year-old adopted daughter Heather screams into a microphone; and especially McCartney, looking for a new song, lazily strumming his bass and singing absurd lyrics, gradually settling into a rhythm and melody that turns into Get Back.
Indeed, it is difficult not to be surprised by the productivity of The Beatles. Seemingly short of material initially, after a month they recovered not only the entire Let It Be album, but also over half of Abbey Road and a selection of songs that ended up on their first albums. solo: Jealous Guy, Back Seat of my car, give me some truth.
But moments of inspiration and interest are stranded amid acres of rambling chatter (âaimless rambling,â as Lennon rightly puts it) and rehearsal. There’s a point, about five hours later, when the prospect of hearing another ramshackle version of Don’t Let Me Down becomes an active threat to the viewer’s sanity. This is probably what recording an album looks like, but for a spectator it is – to use the language of 1969 – a real brake. Much shame has been cast on Yoko Ono for his constant presence at the Beatles recording sessions, but after that you marvel at his courage for attending them.
With a souvenir of Lindsay-Hogg’s 2,000 Torchlight Arabs, it ends with the famous rooftop concert at Apple HQ, which Jackson makes the most of by showing it in split screen, shared with images of the street in sunken and the police arguing with the receptionist of the building. . It’s 40 minutes of unhindered joy, but it’s an exceedingly long and winding road to get there. You wonder how many viewers will go the distance and if so, other than the aforementioned maniacs, will take it more than once.
The Beatles: Get Back is on Disney + November 25, 26 and 27