It should be said from the outset that The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s epic new three part docuseries, will not be for everyone.
Each of the three parts clocks in at over two hours, for a combined run-time of 468 minutes, and if the thought of spending that much time with The Beatles in their natural habitat, having fun, getting into arguments and making music sounds off-putting, then the series is unlikely to change your mind.
However, if that prospect sounds like a dream, then head over to Disney+ and prepare to lose yourself in the one of the best, most involving documentaries in years, that may just be Jackson’s masterpiece (sorry The Lord of the Rings fans).
The series details the band’s January 1969 recording sessions at Twickenham Studios and at their own Apple Studio in London, as they attempted to write 14 new songs in a matter of weeks.
Following a period of intense creativity, loving camaraderie and tense disputes, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr perform their iconic rooftop concert to the delight of passersby and the ire of police.
The series is made up almost entirely of stock footage from the filming of the notorious 1970 documentary Let It Be, but with nearly 60 hours of unseen visual material and more than 150 hours of unheard audio content.
It remains almost unfathomable that Jackson has managed to create such a cohesive and engaging narrative.
The stunning visual and audio restoration, which Jackson spent four years completing, coupled with the fly on the wall camerawork, make for an utterly immersive experience, as we’re let in on private discussions, day-to-day conversations and moments of levity that a lesser documentarian would leave out.
It’s these scenes of the band playing other musicians’ music, singing their own songs in funny voices and mugging to the camera that make the series such a joy.
Anyone aware of this period in Beatles history will know that creative differences and personal friction had started to appear, with it being only a matter of months after the documentary was filmed that the band broke up for good.
This understanding of the group dynamics on the rocks is only slightly diminished by what we see of their time at Twickenham.
There are more than enough light-hearted moments, but it’s clear that tensions are on the boil, as McCartney strains under the pressure of his own self-imposed deadline while trying to rally Starr, Harrison and Lennon, who each go in waves of seeming distinctly disinterested in the project.
However, it is after we hear a private, heartfelt discussion between Lennon and McCartney, recorded via a hidden microphone, that the tone becomes more playful as the band move to their Apple Studio.
The series does sometimes have an overriding sense of melancholy, but this comes more from the knowledge that some rifts were never fully healed and that, although it may feel so watching the dazzlingly vivid, colourful footage, it’s not possible to get back to a time where the band were in their prime, laughing and joking as they created some of the greatest hits of all time.
It can’t be oversold how mind-bogglingly impressive it is to watch some of these songs come to life, often within a matter of minutes.
Whether it’s McCartney casually developing the melody to Let It Be in the background of a conversation or Harrison sheepishly revealing I Me Mine to the rest of the group, we are afforded an immensely intimate insight into their process which also somehow makes it even more alien given the ease with which their arguably unmatched creativity flows.
One particular moment which has unsurprisingly gripped the internet is McCartney’s creation of Get Back, which develops before our very eyes as George yawns his way through it.
It’s astounding stuff.
People will likely bring their own presumptions to the footage – Yoko Ono’s presence appears less intrusive than some had assumed and McCartney’s role in the breakup seems far less prominent than initially understood.
It will be interesting to see how this affects our understanding of the last days of The Beatles, but one person it has swayed is McCartney himself, who’s said it changed his own perception of their final days together.
No matter what happens, it seems unimaginable that this retelling of the story, and exposure of their true dynamic in those final days won’t go down as a seminal moment in our understanding of music history.
In fact, the footage is so engaging that after finishing the first part I found myself immediately wanting to dive right in to the second (the series being released on consecutive days, rather than being immediately available on day one, was probably a good call).
Although I’m sure The Beatles superfans will get the most out of the experience, you absolutely do not have to be one to enjoy it – I for one do not have an in-depth knowledge of their history or back-catalogue.
All that’s needed is a passing admiration for The Beatles, an interest in understanding their dynamics and an appreciation of phenomenally realised documentary filmmaking – once this long and winding road has come to an end it will have struck up a new-found Beatlemania in all who experience it.
Featured image credit: Photo by Linda McCartney. © 2020 Apple Corps Ltd.