History stands corrected

The Beatles: Get Back (15, 450 minutes +)

As a Beatles aficionado (OK, nerd) I have been eagerly awaiting the Disney + release of Peter Jackson’s digitally restored marathon reassessment of a very brief but telling period in the band’s story which up until now had been judged by what happened later rather than when it was shot.

After being given unprecedented access to more than 60 hours of previously unseen footage shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for what became the Let It Be film, and twice as much audio, the Oscar winning Kiwi film maker set about creating a definitive account of just 29 days in January 1969.

The first thing that sticks out a mile is the picture and sound quality with Jackson pulling off the same magic as his 2018 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old in which he restored film from the First World War.

It’s so effective that it becomes difficult to reconcile oneself to the fact that the 28-year old John Lennon and 25-year old George Harrison here have been gone for 41 and 20 years respectively, or that Sir Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney are now 81 and 79.

With a couple of sartorial exceptions it could easily have been shot yesterday.

Secondly, this is no exercise in revisionism, but it does, after 53 years, finally provide context to the accepted history.

Barely six weeks after the release of the White Album, The Beatles set themselves a target of 17 days to write and ultimately perform 14 brand new songs pretty much from scratch and with no overdubs or studio experimentation for a proposed TV special.

It would be the band’s first live performance since August 1966.

Paul comes in on Day 1 (January 2) of what would be known as the Get Back sessions with the beginnings of the songs Two Of Us and I Got A Feeling, John has a chorus and what he thinks is a verse for Don’t Let Me Down (which Paul instinctively points out sounds more like a middle eight, thus opening the door for his friend to complete the song) and George, apologising for only having “slow ones” offers All Things Must Pass.

Much has been made of the sessions being so disastrous that the entire project was shelved with the film and Phil Spector-ised album only appearing in 1970 after Abbey Road had brought to an end the career of the most culturally relevant band of any decade.

But in those 29 days – punctuated by an argument between Paul and George, shown here to have been little more than a terse exchange of words after a reference to something that had happened during the recording of Hey Jude six months earlier which the guitarist still harboured resentment over, and Harrison’s six-day walkout a week later after Lennon had mocked his new song I Me Mine, written the previous evening, and Yoko Ono had apparently sat on his amp – the McCartney songs Get Back, Let It Be and The Long And Winding Road came into being.

Watching Get Back begin to appear out of nowhere as he absent mindedly strums his Hofner bass should send chills up the spine of any musician.

It also becomes apparent that the genesis of his first solo hits, Another Day and Back Seat Of My Car and Lennon’s Gimme Some Truth are also here along with about a third of the album that followed, Abbey Road.

So a shortage of material really wasn’t the problem by the time they stepped onto the roof of the Apple offices in Savile Row for their 42 minute swansong. It was inertia and what both Paul and George agreed was the 15-month doldrums brought about by the death of their father figure “Mr Epstein”.

The perception of McCartney during this period has been vastly misrepresented as the new footage shows. More than any of the four he tries his level best to accept the presence of Ono at the previously sacrosanct sessions and there are some very telling moments of real pain and sadness as the dramas unfold.

Let’s face it, sitting through almost eight hours of four blokes trying to create magic 53 years ago while navigating the storm they can all see coming is not going to be for everyone, even if those four guys were the most famous people on the planet at the time.

But for anyone with an awareness of their effect on popular culture it’s compulsive viewing which rights the misconceptions from that period left by Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 film and Spector’s strings and choir-ruined album production.

It’s a story most of us already knew the end to, but watching Lennon and McCartney both clearly struggling separately with the fracturing of their relationship yet not really knowing how to fix it while still out of habit editing and enhancing each other’s work is so very sad considering how close they had been.

But the most poignant moment comes on the Monday morning after a meeting with George the previous day had collapsed in rancour. Only Ringo and Paul turn up at the cavernous rehearsal space in Twickenham and with tears brimming in his eyes McCartney utters: “…and then there were two.”

History will have Jackson to thank for this and we should be grateful that he didn’t just let it be.

RATING: 10/10

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]