November 24, 2021

THE BEATLES: GET BACK REVIEW: Peter Jackson Just Won’t Let It Be.

They are given about three weeks at Twickenham Film Studios by Denis O’Dell, producer of “The Magic Christian,” the film in which Ringo Starr would appear opposite Peter Sellers. Both the facility and Mr. Starr have to be returned to O’Dell by month’s end, when shooting is to start on his film. The Beatles have only a vague idea of what they’re doing—there’s no concept for the TV show, no plausible venue for the performance, and the songs have yet to be written. The atmosphere isn’t quite fraught, but the schedule is crazy.

As plans collapse, the TV special is abandoned and the grandiose concert becomes the free lunchtime gig in London. Mr. Lindsay-Hogg is heard to say he doesn’t know what his film—they’ve decided to make a film—is going to be about. He can’t see it, but Mr. Jackson—with more than a half-century of hindsight, 60 hours of film and 150 of audio to draw on—can, very clearly. It’s not the story of “Let It Be.” It’s the most Beatle-maniacal epic imaginable, partly because it renders so naked the band’s creative process, and presents their personalities so deeply: Mr. McCartney is the dominant force, his patronizing attitude toward Harrison prompting the latter to quit the band for a few days midfilm; Mr. McCartney then pulls himself back, to admirable effect. Lennon, with Ms. Ono ever at his side or his feet, is not the abrasive or sarcastic character he presented in, say, “A Hard Day’s Night” but is sweet, funny, deferential to his longtime/no-longer songwriting partner (though everyone collaborates on everything). Mr. Starr is everyone’s friend. (The series’ three episodes—at 157, 173 and 138 minutes, respectively—roll out Thursday, Friday and Saturday.)

The portrait we get, of the most influential musical group of the 20th century, is not candid—they always know they’re being filmed, act up accordingly and often avoid the hard work of their own songs by defaulting to rockabilly and blues-based numbers from their youth. (Their early days playing Hamburg, West Germany, are evoked numerous times, as is their manager Brian Epstein, whose death in late 1967 left them with no “discipline,” as one Beatle says.) What a viewer might have trouble keeping in mind is that when the Beatles talk about the old days, they’re talking about only five or six years earlier.

As a lifelong Beatles obsessive (QED) I’m looking forward to Get Back’s debut tomorrow. And hopefully its being bundled on Blu-Ray, right about this time next year, with a restored version of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original Let It Be.

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