‘I’ ON CULTURE
Attention, Beatlemaniacs! Peter Jackson, the Lord of the Rings director, has created a brilliant, although very long, documentary called Get Back. It shows the Beatles creating the Let It Be album, along with the famous (well, for Beatles fans) rooftop concert, which was their last public appearance.
For those like myself, who loved the music, bought all the albums and still listen to their music, it is a revelation. It is, however, very long. Running on Disney+, it is just a bit short of eight hours, thankfully broken into three sections.
One of its best elements is that it is not filled with exciting events. We see John, Paul, George and Ringo messing around, discussing esoteric bits of music and, of course, battling. But in showing so much, we also see the incredible musical process of this now almost-mythical group. They had decided to work for two weeks to create music for a major event, probably to be held outdoors in a foreign country (Tripoli was prominently mentioned) and started off with the pieces of a couple of John’s old songs.
We get to watch the creation of several classics. Paul, sitting strumming his bass guitar, fools around and suddenly gets the famous riff that starts the song that is the title of the movie. We hear the opening bars and even a rough verse about “Sweet Loretta [name changed three or four times] thought she was a woman, but she was another man.” We see the song go through several major changes, one of which is as a mockery of the anti-immigration program of 1960s Britain. And the wheels spin until George brings in Billy Preston, a top keyboard man who energizes the group.
And that is just one of the songs we see in progress. Paul sits with the opening of one of my favorite songs, “The Long and Winding Road,” stuck on the musical bridge. We see George coming up with a couple of songs and, nearly at the end, toss out the beginning line of what is possibly his best song, “Something,” although he didn’t quite have the famous lyrics yet. It would appear in the Beatles’ final album, Abbey Road.
Watching the creative process is fascinating, but so are the personalities. It was close to Beatles’ gospel for the past 50 years that battles between Paul and John over Yoko One caused the breakup, but there is nothing at all like that shown. At one point, Paul muses that John, if he had to choose, would choose Yoko over the band, but it was clear he sympathized with that. She was present throughout but seldom spoke, was always close at hand and seemed to get on very well with everyone.
The real conflict came between George and the others. As any Beatles’ fanatic knows, George was always a bit on the outside because of the closeness of John and Paul. He mutters about having a quota allowed for his songs, and at the end talks about doing an album just of his songs while doing it under the Beatles’ overall name. At one point early on, he just unplugs his guitar and starts moving out, simply saying that he’s out of the band.
That leads eventually to first a confrontation, and then some compromise. Interestingly, once the conflict is resolved, nothing more is really said about it.
But the reason for the breakup becomes clear: the members were going their separate ways. Paul at one point talked about how in the early years, they all were in school at the same time and then living together in Hamburg and then touring. They were together all the time. But as the band stopped touring (thanks to some pretty atrocious problems on tour, particularly in Manila) they started to drift apart. John wanted to be more of an activist with Yoko, Paul really wanted to stay writing pop music, George was more involved in his religious quest and Ringo wanted to be friends with everyone but was closest to Paul. It was more of a drifting apart than a breakup.
But the film is fantastic for those of us who really love the music. To see the process of creation for some of our favorite songs is great, and watching our musical heroes being themselves is a treat.
But “I Have a Feeling” (pardon the pun) that watching it will be “A Long and Winding Road,” and if you are not that big a fan, you might “Let It Be.”