Conventional wisdom says that Yoko Ono was such an intrusive and disruptive character during the Beatles’ recording sessions for “Let It Be” in early 1969 that it caused irreparable breakups between John Lennon and the rest of the group and was the primary cause to Fab Four eventually goes their separate ways.
Come back. Return. That does not seem to be the case, as we are in the room with the Beatles et al., In the Disney + documentary series “The Beatles: Get Back.” Yoko is admittedly a constant presence in the studio, but for the most part she sits quietly by John’s side, knitting and reading. (On another occasion, we see her engaged in a friendly, intimate conversation with Paul McCartney’s then-girlfriend, Linda Eastman. Later, she dances with John during a break in a nice, romantic moment.)
We never see Yoko get involved in the creative process. Granted, the other band members acknowledge Yoko’s growing influence on John, as Paul notes: “If it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko.” But he adds: “She’s amazing, she’s really okay, they just want to be close to each other.… It [would] be an incredible, comical thing in 50 years [if people said], ‘They broke up because Yoko was sitting on an amplifier.’ ”
Golden moments like this are sprinkled over the omniscient, comprehensive and astonishingly living prism, which is Peter Jackson’s instantly iconic three-part Disney + documentary series, “The Beatles: Get Back”, which the filmmaker “Lord of the Rings” combed around 60 to. hours of filming and more than 150 hours of unprecedented sound to deliver one of the most entertaining, compelling and important chapters in filmed music history.
Parts of this story were previously told in the 1970 Michael Lindsay-Hogg film “Let It Be”, which drew a limited picture of events (the Beatles set limits on the content Lindsay Hogg could show), but Jackson and his New Zealand- based production guides have restored the 16mm color shots to create incredibly pristine and crisp images and have used modern digital sound techniques to separate and isolate guitar pieces, drums, vocals – and unvarnished conversations between the band while spending January 1969 rehearsing and recording songs .
With a total of just under eight hours, but never appearing as padded or anything less than fascinating, “Get Back” opens with a 10-minute montage that serves as a visual Wikipedia entry about the Beatles for the young or the uninformed, takes us through their early days in Liverpool through their meteoric rise to the top of the pop, through the hit movies and the controversies and the metamorphosis to more sophisticated and socially relevant music to their 1966 decision to stop performing live. In late 1968, the group agreed that they would invite an audience to see them perform what would be their penultimate album, and it would also be a TV special.
Then it’s time for really good things, as Jackson delivers a classic fly-on-the-wall chronicle that makes the wise decision not to include any voice-over narrative or contemporary interviews. Only a few well-timed, explanatory graphics are needed as we take a virtual place in the studio, while the boys, dressed in their fur coats and mother fashion, begin to work out the basics of songs like “Let It Be”, “Get Back”, “Something” , “I’ve Got a Feeling” and some tunes that eventually became solo, tunes after breakup, e.g. Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.”
The Beatles are in the hollow Twickenham Film Studios (which provides a ton of fantastic overhead footage), and the crews are working on the rigs and footage for the TV special, which will eventually be scrapped, but the band sits in a close circle with John , Paul and George sat facing Ringo and his drum kit. It’s clear from the start that Paul is in charge as he calls the chord changes and orchestrates the tempo – but the John Lennon we see here is not angry or angry or controversial, he is a gracious collaborator and sometimes an evil clown who works most interested in making the songs work and having a good time along the way.
George, on the other hand, becomes more and more frustrated as John and especially Paul rule over him and ignore his worries. (Paul: “You’re always annoyed … I’m trying to help you.”) Suddenly, in his typical low-key way, George says, “I think I’m leaving the band now” – and he does. It takes two summits in Ringo’s home before George returns, as if nothing had happened.
By the time the band moves to a basement studio at Apple Records’ headquarters – where they’re practically on top of each other, with keyboardist Billy Preston, Yoko, Linda Eastman and her early daughter Heather and Ringo’s wife Maureen joining the cause – it feels like a family affair where John teases little Heather and George serves as a bartender and hands out drinks to his bandmates.
The recordings of the Beatles’ famous rooftop performances of “Get Back”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, “I’ve Got a Feeling” et al., Are reproduced in razor-sharp tones (George’s lime green pants, Ringo’s cherry red raincoat!) , where Jackson and his editing team add some “Woodstock” -type split-screen moments and a nice epilogue when the band and their significant others are back downstairs after the mini-concert, lamenting to the newly recorded track.
We know the road ahead will not be so long and twisted for the Beatles; they will only record one more album, “Abbey Road”, before parting ways permanently. A decade later, John Lennon would be murdered, and in 2001 we lost George Harrison – making it even more bittersweet and touching, as Paul McCartney from 1969 acknowledges the very real differences and strife between the band, but says, “And when we are all very old, we all agree … and we all sing. “
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