The Beatles: Get Back – A Documentary Over Half a Century in the Making – Review

Director: Peter Jackson

Rating: ★★★★

It’s genuinely amazing that this hasn’t been released before. For over half a century there’s been around sixty hours of footage showing The Beatles write, bicker, and record the ‘Let It Be’ album that’s been hidden away, with only the ‘Let It Be’ film available (although hard to get hold of) for fans to watch. The original film showed a lot of in-fighting within the band and has been seen for many years as the beginning of the end for the legendary group. Peter Jackson, who compiled the new documentary series, wanted to show that it wasn’t as negative as people previously thought, that there was a lot of high points in the sessions. Even with the new eight-ish hour documentary, that’s been split into three parts, there is still over fifty hours of unseen footage. It’s a raw and honest look at the band as they try to do something new, while also returning to their roots.

It’s January 1969 and The Beatles are about to start working on their new album, which would eventually become ‘Let It Be’. The idea is that they write and practice a set of songs, and then perform them live in concert, which would be the first public performance in three years. After many delays, arguments and changed minds, the concert becomes the now iconic rooftop performance. Over three 2+ hour episodes, we get to see the sessions progress from the start to the rooftop performance.

Being around eight hours, this is truly for die-hard Beatles fans. It’s the closest you can get to actually being in the studio with The Beatles. It’s very strange and a rare treat to see the creation of such iconic songs. While waiting for John Lennon to arrive on morning, Paul McCartney plays around on his bass until he gets a rhythm that he likes, and you get to see that turn into ‘Get Back’. While conversations are happening in the foreground you can hear McCartney putting together the chord progression for ‘Let It Be’. These moments are pure gems that any Beatles fan will love to see.

There’s a great little moment, at the beginning of episode 3, where Ringo Starr shows George Harrison the beginning of the song he’s been working on, ‘Octopus’s Garden’. There’s something really special about being able to see the Fab Four create the now iconic songs that we take for granted. It’s also amazing how many songs they were working on that wouldn’t even be Beatles songs. McCartney shows a rough version of ‘Another Day’, Lennon shows the group a rough version of ‘Child of Nature’, which would become ‘Jealous Guy’ from the ‘Imagine’ album. The biggest highlight is the group working on Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’, which would become the title track of his first proper solo album. There are also a few songs that wouldn’t be fully realised until their next album, ‘Abbey Road’ that appear throughout the documentary.

Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John Lennon in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. Photo courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.

Beyond the creation of now iconic songs, the documentary also shows a much more human and at times vulnerable side to the group. There are arguments, with Harrison leaving the band at one point, but there is also a brotherhood between them. You can see them playing off each other, and clearly enjoying what they do. There are also some really genuine moments of the group, where it’s clear they forgot they were being recorded. You can see that Lennon is troubled by the strains when he’s talking to someone. There are tears in McCartney’s eyes as he’s facing the end of the group that he’s known for half his life. It’s not just the bad though, there’s also moments of them laughing with each other, joking around as they work on the songs. Adlibbing silly lyrics, and reworking some of their older classics into parody. It’s essentially four friends, with all the ups and downs that come with it.  

Another highlight is McCartney defending Yoko Ono’s presence at the recordings, which will hopefully put the rumours that she caused the break-up to bed once and for all. It also shows George Harrison becoming a great songwriter in his own right and wanting to get out of the shadow cast by Lennon/McCartney. It’s also interesting how the rooftop performance came about. It wasn’t the original plan, as they were searching for a big finale for their documentary. The moment when the idea is brought to McCartney, who was desperate for something special, is a moment of pure joy. The instant happiness on his face is just brilliant.

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. Photo courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.

The only issue with the documentary really is its length. Each episode is well over two hours, and at points it does start to feel very tedious. There’s only so much of watching them rehearse the same few songs over and over before it starts to drain you. The second episode, which is close to three hours, in particular is very bloated. By having that length, it does really makes you feel like you go on the journey with them, and that is the purpose of the series. At times it feels like no progress is being made, even though you know the final results, then the third episode happens. Which is just two hours and twenty minutes of brilliance. It’s great moment after great moment all rushing towards the rooftop concert, which is shown in full with the police trying to stop it and the reaction of people on the street. The third episode is magic and makes the entire journey worth it, and when the credits start to roll, you want more.

Seeing the entire build up to the album and rooftop performance will change how you see them both forever. It will be impossible to listen to ‘Let It Be’ without imagining all of the work and struggle that went into making the album. In the same way that the rooftop performance now has an emotional weight to it that can never be removed. No matter how big of a Beatles fan you are, if you do sit down for the entire experience then you’ll have a deeper understanding and appreciation of their music.

The Beatles: Get Back is most likely the final significant addition to The Beatles canon. Even if there’s more footage that remains unseen, Jackson clearly hasn’t left anything of note on the cutting room floor. There are some truly remarkable moments, and at time’s it’s shockingly honest. It’s a great insight into how music is made and a truly brilliant reflection of who The Beatles were as people and musicians.  

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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