Time to Get Back

There’s a famous quote about sausage making that director Peter Jackson should have given more thought to. “To retain respect for laws and sausages, one must not watch them in the making.” Maybe we would have been better off not knowing.

Jackson’s  latest film, Get Back, an eight hour plus extravaganza in three parts, shows The Beatles in the throes of creation for the album that would eventually become Let It Be. The first part was streamed Thursday on Disney+, with part two available today and part three on Saturday. 

Using footage unseen for fifty years, Jackson has crafted an intimate portrait of a band in chaos that nevertheless managed to create some great art. It is quite different from the 1970 Let It Be film that was made using the same footage. Different directors have different visions.

Not that Jackson was really a director on this one. He got to splice tape together. But it isn’t as if he was able to ask for retakes. Or even vocal overdubs – two of the four Beatles are dead, as are many of the others who showed up in those studios in January 1969.

Watching part one of Get Back I had mixed feelings. Maybe that was because, even though I owned most of their records, I was never a big Beatles fan. I respected their art, but it didn’t move me emotionally. Still, their music is the soundtrack of my childhood and teen years, and I was eagerly awaiting this documentary.

The film is in many ways directionless. The whole idea is that the Beatles had 14 days to write and rehearse Let It Be, and cap it off with their first live show in three years. Watching the film, it is a miracle they pulled it off. 

Except, spoiler alert, they didn’t. While Let It Be was the last Beatles album released, it wasn’t the last one recorded. That would be Abbey Road. Let it Be was, as I remember it, abandoned and then cobbled together after the fact so to speak. Watching this movie it is easy to understand why.

They did manage the live show though, which I think will be the showcase of part three on Saturday. 

As a music fan I did find myself fascinated watching the band creating songs that are now part of the Beatles canon, watching them evolve from nothing under the pressure of a looming deadline reading. I was struck by how much these four very young looking men were obviously having fun making music together. The band may have been fracturing, on the verge of breakup, but there is something special about how they could get lost in the sound. 

If this were a film about perhaps any other band it would be boring. We get bits and pieces of songs, but rarely a complete version. It isn’t a concert film, but a capturing of the creative process on film.

As a documentary, I felt it could use more context. And perhaps lesss rambling and snippets of songs. The Beatles were cultural icons – and remain so today. I would have liked to see a little more attempt to frame these sessions a little more. Watching a rehearsal that isn’t gelling is only fun for a while.

Still, I subscribed to Disney+ just to see this film. My guess is that millions of others have done the same.
If nothing else, watching the Beatles perform makes me feel young again.

2 comments

  1. Liked your take on Jackson’s film on the Beatles. I liked your allusion to Bismarck’s aphorism re: law and sausages (apparently the origin is more complicated: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/07/08/laws-sausages/) I haven’t seen the documentary film, but it is intriguing.

    1. After almost a week I still have some ambivalence. I got about half way through the second part, and haven’t made the time to go back yet. I’ll probably finish it next week. Did we really need more than eight hours of “backstage” material? Probably not.

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