By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Yes We Can
I’ve been watching the Disney+ The Beatles: Get Back documentary over the last few days. At an average of 8 hours long, I’m about halfway through it with the Fab Four having set up in their Apple Corps studio to record the Let It Be album (also the title of the 1970 documentary this footage was originally shot for). This restored footage, directed by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) is one of the most intimate looks at the band I’ve seen.
I’ve been a lifelong Beatles fans, after my sister introduced me to them years ago. The group really became “my” band during my high school years, and my love for the group has only deepened since. This column isn’t so much a review of the documentary as it’s more just my observations of what would eventually become “The End” of the Beatles.
The film centers around the group trying to prepare themselves for their first live concert in two years by creating an album of all-new songs in about three weeks. It’s a brutal deadline, and pre-existing tensions mount in an already challenging situation. The remastered footage is crisp and beautiful, as is its excellent sound.
The Missus and I have had very different experiences watching this film so far. As a lifelong fan and having worked in the music industry, I really appreciate the “fly on the wall” nuance that comes with this film. Get Back is slow and deliberate, with extended sections of the band both conceptualizing and rehearsing new songs. The effect feels real-time with hints of humor and some strikingly prophetic observations about where the Beatles will eventually end up.
The Missus is more a casual fan. She enjoys the Beatles’ music, though admittedly not on the level I do. She needs the occasional “break” (which is fair, given the long runtime), but both of us have spotted the writing on the wall for the group, which would disband a year later.
Some reviewers have tried to criticize the documentary for presenting that January of 1969 a being too “upbeat,” lessening the impact of where the group’s mindset at this stage of their career. There are moments of wit and candor and silliness as day sessions turn into long night ones, but this is not a “happy” film. Nor is it “sad,” at least not in the sense that everything they do is miserable with constant in-fighting.
There are moments, though: John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s civil relationship with each other is fraying. McCartney is trying to keep the group together. Lennon would rather spend his time with Yoko Ono, who to credit, largely just sits by Lennon’s side and stays out of the creative input. McCartney muses in 50 years, Ono will be blamed for breaking up the Beatles by sitting on an amp.
Was Ono a factor? Possibly, not entirely, but it’s simply another element mixed in with Lennon being mentally “done” by this point, and McCartney clearly considering his own career past the band.
Ringo Starr remains constantly and quietly loyal to the band’s goal. George Harrison has a similar role, but between McCartney’s attempts to be the leader and Lennon having largely checked out at this point, he quits the band for a few days, throwing the group’s plans and future into total uncertainty. The band members spend that lost time through getting their frustrations out through performance, or a brief moment of insight where McCartney realizes the band’s days are running short, a fate quite possibly beyond anyone’s control.
Certainly, I don’t want to spoil every story beat, but the documentary does a remarkable job of mixing those feelings of frustration, despair, and candidness with a sense of hopeful optimism that somehow, the group will pull through this. I’ve consumed so much Beatles content over the years that I’ve gained a sense of familiarity about them, but there are moments of vulnerability that other Beatles films or interviews haven’t shown before.
I still have another episode and a half of The Beatles: Get Back to go, but I’ve been enjoying its leisurely and thoughtful ride. It’s an ending we all know, now journeyed on a different path through this film.
It’s interesting that Disney wanted to cut out all elements of the group smoking and swearing to fit their more “family friendly” service, until McCartney and Starr protested the edits. Removing the smoking scenes alone would reduce this 8-hour documentary to about 10 minutes.
The 1960s were truly a different time.
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