A captivating and playful look at the last days of the group

There are a lot of times in “The Beatles: Get Back” where the band in the middle is exhausted. Throughout the eight-plus-hour documentary by Peter Jackson, drawn from footage collected during the run-up to their last public performance, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr often explain that they haven’t slept.

It’s not just the multiple types of exhaustion you can feel in the four band members and the assembled team tasked with helping them deliver a new album. There’s a kind of frenzy that sets in after a long day (not to mention a long month or a long career), when guys grab their instruments and start weaving musical pots of old hits and lyrics. parody and standards of blues and esoteric short stories. It’s not a band’s jam sessions that kill time. These are the last creative anguishes of a partnership whose time was about to run out.

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Despite all the perceived and documented conflicts surrounding the band’s separation, it’s surprising how wacky “The Beatles: Get Back” can be at times. There are certainly times when the cameras, thanks to original 1969 director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, manage to capture defining moments in the group’s collapse. The members come out at mid-rehearsal. Creative discussions simmer with passive aggressiveness.

But “The Beatles: Get Back” has many more examples of a quartet of childhood friends playing in a confined space. Rather, if there is tension, it’s because it’s simmering in a public bubble for so long, with the added benefit of now having to produce new works in a short timeframe. Respecting the deadlines of the film plans of Lindsay-Hogg, the television project (finally abandoned) and a follow-up “White album”, they try to align their ambitions. At different points in the process, you can feel the times when they are wondering if it is worth continuing.

While there is a caged zoo feel to much of the rehearsal and recording footage, “The Beatles: Get Back” benefits from the fact that the group has bounced around in different locations throughout the month of January. 1969. The color background in a Twickenham studio gives way to the humble interiors of their new home at Apple Corps headquarters. Even before the legendary farewell performance, there are glimpses of the streets of London during the day. (For the handful of Beatles fans who camped near the Apple building, there are plenty more who walk the steps without being worried.)

“The Beatles: Come Back”;  - Credit: Apple Corps Ltd.

“The Beatles: Get Back” – Credit: Apple Corps Ltd.

Apple Corps Ltd.

Jackson’s structure for this sequence amounts to a simple calendar page. As each new day passes in order, the days are crossed out and the deadlines circled in red get closer and closer. Even with this steady march towards the last days of January, there are some carefully chosen times when “The Beatles: Get Back” gets to run through other parts of the band’s history. When the studio conversation turns to their weeks at an ashram in Rishikesh the year before, Jackson files personal films from the trip to line up with their memories.

The past is omnipresent in “The Beatles: Get Back”. It might be a bit of selective editing from the treasure trove of existing footage, but this project makes it seem like at least McCartney and Lennon had no problem tapping into their catalog. It’s natural for this group, which throughout the writing process is almost compulsively musical. Unless the four of them are sitting around a table with Lindsay-Hogg or producer George Martin, someone usually has a guitar in hand. The project feels like a sound technician’s nightmare at times – until you come to a point where you can hear the bones of a future Beatles anthem forming in the background of an informal conversation going on. across the room.

Some of the songs that have come to define these “Let It Be” sessions have arrived in almost final form, whether they were prepared at home or have been germinating for some time. The real alchemy moments in “The Beatles: Get Back” come when you can feel the atmosphere in the room change as one of them comes up with a musical idea that will one day become a classic in its own right. (Some tracks that eventually landed on “Abbey Road” or solo efforts can also trace their origins back to those few weeks.) These three feature film episodes are among the purest documents of the creative process, the musical equivalent of the discovery of Michelangelo. the sculpture that has always been in the block of marble from the start.

Throughout the process, the four members of the group remain keenly aware that all of this is being captured for posterity. After so much time spent under a public microscope (this document shows how aware they were of what was written about them in the press), perhaps the constant presence of a camera was a visual version of white noise. . There are times when they insist on having conversations or doing business away from the rest of the crew, especially as they try to preserve the quartet. From Starr’s general mirth to Lennon’s experimental insolence throughout McCartney singing the final version of the album’s title track straight to the camera, there’s an unspoken push-pull between who they are as ‘individuals or musicians and who they are as the Beatles.

“The Beatles: Come Back”;  - Credit: Apple Corps Ltd.

“The Beatles: Get Back” – Credit: Apple Corps Ltd.

Apple Corps Ltd.

It’s the kind of access to a group turning point that pretty much makes any biopic obsolete. Sandy Powell working for months might not be able to outdo the wardrobe everyone casually brought from home every day. Lennon is an ideal class clown, with a feel for a good encore and a quiver of lines that wouldn’t look out of place on “Succession.” For as much of the historical blame outside forces have had in dismantling The Beatles, this sequence manages to include Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and a number of other “guest stars,” while also showing that the band members themselves do not. did not need help sowing. their own dissatisfaction.

If “The Beatles: Get Back” makes minor slips, it is in order to be complete. There is a frenetic nature at first in cutting as many angles together as possible when later moments prove the value of letting those creative breakthroughs unfold more leisurely. However, this comes at least in part from the fact that this project creates a patchwork to cover the parts where only audio is available. For Jackson and editor-in-chief Jabez Olssen to be able to stitch these sequences together with as little stitching as possible is a feat in itself.

And a little bit of excess makes perfect sense for a column like this, especially as McCartney onscreen demands more and more takes and refinement, until the final moments of the documentary. (In each additional little DIY, you can feel the multitude of remasters and remixes of the album “Let It Be” to come in the decades to come.) “The Beatles: Get Back” is a testament to the number of ideas that are emerging. are brought together. to be sidelined.

Overall, Jackson’s ideas are savvy, knowing what seemingly repetitive song readings or chicanery at performance venues will add something new to our understanding of these men. These instincts carry over to the culminating rooftop concert, which in “The Beatles: Get Back” becomes as much a split-screen race against time as it is an indelible music video. With a project like this bringing music history back from the editing room floor to the spotlight, it makes sense to have too much rather than too little.

Note: A

The first episode of “The Beatles: Get Back” is now available to watch on Disney +. New episodes will be released on Friday and Saturday.

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