Review - The Beatles: Get Back


There are two problems with this Peter Jackson documentary. The first is that it is far too long - are casual fans really going to sit through 9 hours of a band bickering? The second problem is that it is far too short! Beatles obsessives (like me) could happily drink in a hundred hours of this stuff.

Bits of it are just sublimely beautiful. Listening to George Harrison's first performance of I, Me, Mine is breathtaking. And then it is devastating to watch the fall-out as the emotional illiteracy of his band-mates drive him from the group.

There are moments of genuine shock - like the hidden microphone capturing a private discussion between John and Paul. And moments of genuine wonder as you watch The Beatles try to find the right lyrics for a song. You'll feel like screaming at the TV as they miss the obvious lyrics which are burned into your mind.

Is there a bit of Spın̈al Tap in there? Obviously! Endless meandering discussions, weird little in-jokes, and the interminable technobabble of recording musicians are now a well-worn trope. But Peter Jackson brings it all to life - not least with the glorious improvements to the cheap 16mm prints.

It is enormously enjoyable watching these blokes dick about. Jamming, Elvis impressions, banging away on the piano. But, after a while, it's obvious that there's no impetus there. Without the guiding influence of Brian Epstein to tell them what to do and when to do it, they're adrift. It becomes the Paul McCartney show - simply because he's the only one who seems to want to produce anything. That, of course, builds up the resentment of the others from being bossed around - but in the absence of a unifying figure, what else could be done?

The tone changes when Billy Preston arrives. No only does he light up the screen with his smile and infectious good humour (c'mon, how big would the smile on your face be if The Beatles casually asked you to be in their band?!?!) but all of a sudden the boys are on their best behaviour and the music starts flowing. Preston makes playing the electric piano look effortless. The chords flow like endless wind. As soon as he steps away, the energy goes flat.

I loved the glimpses of an alternative history. What if they had played a Libyan amphitheatre with Nicky Hopkins on keyboard? Imagine if The Beatles did their gig on the rooftop of Parliament - with Dylan singing backup? A concert on Primrose Hill but without George?

And, in the end, it's the people outside of the Fab Four who make this movie. Debbie Wellum - who is a disembodied voice - is an absolute superhero in her diversionary tactics with the police. Mal's cheerful meandering through the background is a delightful presence. Glyn's wardrobe is scene-stealingly fabulous. The Beatles aren't just The Beatles - if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an infinitely patient team to elevate a rock band.

The final concert is amazing. How do you decide which angle you show to the world? Jackson sensibly abdicates this decision and gives us a control-room view of all the cameras simultaneously! Which gives us these rather wonderful shots:
Beatles on the rooftop. Four different camera angles shown simultaneously.

Isn't it a pity that it has to end. To be trapped in a room with such talent - seeing how they make it up as they go - what a joy and honour.

Things are never as bleak as they seem. And, with judicious editing, a memory can be more uplifting than prosaic reality.


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