The Beatles: Get Back

The Beatles: Get Back ★★★★★

In a world that has strip-mined and sold seemingly every last piece of Beatles ephemera, I was amazed to learn that 160 unused hours of footage from the shooting of Let It Be had somehow gone unexploited. But having now seen this documentary, I realize that all the raw footage from all those whirring cameras would have been meaningless without a great filmmaker who could make the thousands of small but crucial editorial decisions to shape it all into something that 1) conveys what the energy of the room probably felt like, 2) addresses all the narratives we’ve all internalized about this moment of the band’s existence, and 3) depicts the slow, unglamorous business of art-making while not being boring as fuck. Not many could pull this off. Peter Jackson, that magnificent bastard, has done it.

The original Let it Be documentary is best remembered for the moments of friction it showed between the band. This eight-hour behemoth tells a more nuanced story of four guys who can be the absolute best friends and greatest band in the whole wide world when they’re just sitting down together doin’ the work, but who nevertheless can no longer have the same friendship they once had because it's not Hamburg circa 1962 anymore. It's also the story of two men whose friendship is so intense and talents are so vast that there is vanishingly little room for the two other members of the group (and within that intense friendship, it's the story of one guy who has grown too big for the group, and another guy who has simply outgrown the group, and how these dynamics start to affect everything). It’s also a story about how, at a certain level of success, a band is no longer just a band, it’s an industry, and how can you carve out space within that huge edifice to rediscover being just a band? It's also the story of the four most famous men in the world sitting a room together trying to do work and stay sane while everybody in the world is talking about them.

There are so many incredible moments that we're lucky a camera was there to capture. Paul strumming on his guitar and pulling "Get Back" out of nowhere. George running in and excitedly playing a song he's come up with called "I Me Mine," and being met with crushing indifference from his bandmates. Ringo rolling into the studio one morning, half-jokingly playing a few bars of a silly song called “Octopus’s Garden,” and everyone having a good laugh until George moves over to the piano and starts working with Ringo to take it further. Peter Sellers dropping by the studio, unhappy to find himself in the middle of a riff session with the lads, and then absolutely refusing to play ball and leaving after maybe two minutes.

A lot of digital smothering was done to make this footage look "modern," but it mostly just serves to make Ringo look like the Madame Tussaud version of himself. I fear that this will become a landmark in our corporate masters' evil plot to deface cinema and history by perpetuating the idea that audiences are incapable of engaging with any material that doesn't have the visual texture of a Netflix Christmas movie. But look, I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

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