‘Get Back’ series dispels and confirms some Beatles myths
New York For 50 years, the established narrative has had the Beatles’ “Let it Be” recording session as a miserable experience with a band where the members are tired of each other, tired of their work and in the process of breaking up.
The nearly 8-hour documentary produced by Peter Jackson, culled from film and taping excerpts from those sessions, reveals a self-conscious squad with a rare relevance and work ethic who still knew how to have fun — but was also in the process of crumbling over.
The “Get Back” series unfolds over three days starting with Thanksgiving on Disney+.
Produced by the Beatlemaniac for fellow Beatlemaniacs, it can be a stressful experience for those not in the club. But the club is very big. In addition to gifts for fans, “Get Back” is a sneak peek into the creative process of a band still popular half a century after they ceased to exist.
Jackson, the creator of the Academy Award-winning “Lord of the Rings” series, was discussing another project with the Beatles when he inquired about what happened to all the excerpts from director Michael Lindsey Hough’s 1970 film “Let it Be.”
There was nearly 60 hours of film taken over three weeks, most of it unseen, and the band was thinking about what to do with it. Jackson took that material, as well as 150 hours of audio recordings, and spent four years building a story.
I approached him for fear that it would be a frustrating act.
The Lindsay-Hogg film is seen as an account of the band’s death – unfairly, in Jackson’s view – because it was released so soon after the breakup was announced. The Beatles bolstered the idea with negative comments about the experience, giving themselves a tight deadline to write and record new material in preparation for a live show, with all cameras following it.
“I just waited for things to get worse,” Jackson said. I waited for the arguments to begin. I waited for the conflict to start. I waited for the feeling that they hate each other. I waited for all the things I read in the books, and they never showed up.”
Oh, there is a struggle. History overshadows the fun moments revealed in excerpts, like John Lennon singing “Two of Us” as an impersonator of Bob Dylan, or he and Paul McCartney braving each other for a brisk run without moving their lips. Jackson restores balance.
“The connection was amazing,” drummer Ringo Starr recalled in a recent interview with Zoom. I am an only child (but) I have three siblings. We looked at each other. We have taken care of each other. We had a few rows with each other – that’s what people do. But musically, every time we counted — one, two, three, four — we were at the best we could be.”
Jackson follows the day-to-day sessions from their debut on a cavernous film set that was eventually abandoned in favor of the familiar London recording studio, to the brief rooftop performance that was the last time the Beatles played in public.
The director is sensitive to the idea that he was brought in to “purge” the sessions, noting that “Get Back” depicts George Harrison briefly leaving the band, an event that Lindsay-Hogg was not allowed to show.
That moment unfolded after a morning as Harrison watched, silently swaying, as Lennon and McCartney demonstrated their close creative connection to working on “Two of Us” as if the others weren’t there. When the lunch break came, Harrison had something more permanent.
“I’m leaving the band now,” he said, almost realistically, before stepping out.
After a few days, and a couple of band meetings, Harrison was persuaded to return. The morning he does so, the film shows that he and Lennon read a false press report stating that they had been hit, and encountered in boxing situations to make fun of him.
Along the way, Jackson’s project dispels and reinforces bits of conventional wisdom that has solidified over the years.
Myth #1: McCartney was a control freak.
Verdict: Partially true. The film shows Harrison visibly upset with McCartney as he and the other band members give him instructions on how to play and persuade them to decide on a live concert. The band has been somewhat aimless since manager Brian Epstein’s death in 1967. McCartney has taken on the role of “father,” which he’s totally uncomfortable with.
“I’m afraid to be the manager, and I’ve been for two years,” he says. “I don’t get any support.”
Myth 2: Yoko Ono broke the Beatles.
Verdict: Not true. She’s present at nearly every recording session, but mostly as a benign force sitting next to Lennon. All other Beetle pairs appear in the studio, although not many. At one point, McCartney even made a joke about it.
“It would be something incredibly comical in 50 years — they broke up because Yoko sat on a subwoofer,” he says.
In the afternoon after Harrison leaves, the remaining Beatles are clearly letting out their frustration with some aggressive music, and Ono takes control of his mic—a magical moment.
Myth #3: The Beatles basically turned into four solo artists, with the others as curators for each other’s songs.
Verdict: Not true. They constantly cooperate and seek advice. At one point, Harrison admitted to Lennon that he was having trouble completing the line that became “attractive to me like any other lover” in “Something”. Lennon suggests using a nonsensical phrase – “it attracts me like cauliflower” – until something better emerges.
Through the film, viewers can see how McCartney’s “Get Back” appears juggling on the side, as he and Lennon exchange lyrical suggestions and come up with an idea to make it a song critical of anti-immigrant sentiment, as the entire band works on the arrangement. Delighted with the end result, it’s Harrison who suggests releasing it immediately as a single.
“A glimpse into their work together is a critically important artifact, not just for Beatles fans but for any creative person,” said Bob Spitz, author of The Beatles: The Biography, published in 2005.
Myth #4: The filming showed the Beatles breaking up.
Verdict: Essentially true. It becomes clear that Lennon and Harrison’s enthusiasm for being the Beatles is waning. It’s clear that Lennon is fond of Ono; McCartney tells Harrison and Starr that if there was a choice between her and the Beatles, Lennon would go with her.
Harrison, who is growing creatively, becomes uncomfortable with his secondary role. He spoke with Lennon about making a solo album because he had enough songs written to fill his “quota” of Beatles albums for another decade. As if to prove his point, the Beatles are rehearsing for Harrison’s majestic “All Things Must Pass,” but they refuse to record it.
In the film, Lennon and Starr also discuss a meeting with Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein about taking on the Beatles’ business, foreshadowing a bitter split with McCartney.
“It’s all full of little stories,” Jackson said.
Jackson, who was expected to produce a traditional documentary, said he was nervous while returning his feature-length final product to McCartney, Starr, and the Lennon and Harrison families.
“But they came back and said, ‘Great, don’t change a thing,'” he said.
Among the precious moments he discovered was the joy on the faces of the Beatles as they played on the studio rooftop. The movie shows the entire performance, as the Beatles rise to the challenge and have a great time doing it.
When the police are finally done, the band and entourage return to the studio and listen to a recording of what they did.
“This is a very good experience for something else,” says producer George Martin.
This, unfortunately, was not to be.
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