We’ve all seen it now, right? Who said you should never glimpse the wizards behind the curtain… especially back when they was fab. Really fab. By Alan O’Hare.
Nothing is real? Everything is real. Every emotion human beings are capable of expressing, and even a few they’re not, is present throughout ‘The Beatles: Get Back’. And the film’s four white, male, rich (and Scouse) protagonists aren’t shy about letting you know about theirs. Letting each other know? In the middle of the last century, that’s a different story…
The story is a tale as old as time: friends grow-up, meet other people, get other interests and drift apart from each other. The rub here is that these four mates are The Beatles, the biggest phenomenon the world has ever seen and more popular than Jesus. John Lennon might have once derided Jesus’ disciples as “ordinary”, but this epic film finds its heart a home in the mundane minutiae: tea and toast, playing with kids, beer and wine, working late and having weekends off. It’s joyous, isn’t it? In the midst of one of the strangest periods we’ve known, how lovely to see our heroes… just… being. You know? I bet you’ve had the same messages from your mates: ‘did you see that bit?’, ‘what about when Paul says that?’, ‘is Ringo hungover every day?’, ‘isn’t George a moaning bastard?’. It’s like a postcard from a simpler time that’s been scrubbed up to help us live the lie of thinking it was yesterday. It wasn’t.
This month in the life of The Beatles was captured for posterity half a century ago and finds two of them wanting to move on and the other two wanting to recapture something. That’s life, eh. We see ourselves in The Beatles because they’re just as fragile and pig-headed, and happy and sad, and decisive and deluded as the rest of us. The difference lies in what they were capable of creating together and, amazingly, we see that captured on camera in many moments: Paul willing ‘Get Back’ (the song) into existence and revealing everything you ever wanted to know about him, George standing up for himself and opening a door to his future while defending ‘I Me Mine’, John showing the softer side that Yoko Ono was bringing to the fore and Ringo revealing once and for all that he was the best drummer songwriters could ever dream of playing with.
Ringo is us here, too. Whilst musically he contributes everything the group need with a minimum of effort and a maximum of efficiency, he’s often peripheral to the extracurricular stories the other three insist on telling each other daily. The conscience of The Beatles? That’s “Richey” and he represents us, the ever-present outside world The Beatles both revered and were repelled by, throughout by anchoring the daftness with a common sense of dread that is drummed into you during daily life as a member of the working class. Paul calls John “the Prince of Garston” at one point, while George asks for bow ties and black shoes to be delivered to his amplifier…and Ringo sits there smoking, sulking and smiling. It’s just another day at the office.
Apart from when it’s not. When the action moves from a sterile Twickenham hangar to Apple HQ, ‘The Beatles: Get Back’ really begins. Until then, the director leans on the fact we’re all gawping open-mouthed at The Fabs in high density and colour. At 3 Savile Row we bear witness to music and history being made. Episode 2 is where the magic starts and we’re introduced properly to Beatle enablers Glyn Johns, George Martin, Mal Evans and the one and only catalyst The Beatles ever needed, keys man Billy Preston. ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Two Of Us’ all start to take shape and you can’t believe footage exists of these four wizards behind the curtain… never mind that it sat in an archive for more than 50 years! Music becomes the healer as The Beatles plus one get stuck into the tie that binds them together forever, the songs. ‘The One After 909’, ‘Octopus’s Garden’, ‘Old Brown Shoe’ and ‘The Long And Winding Road’ all take cameos too, as the fab four rattle through their next two albums like it was just another Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps it was.
From here, we head up to the roof for some of the greatest Beatles footage ever captured as the group’s last ever concert plays out in real time with walk-on parts for the public passing by below, coppers on the bounce and the staff at Apple heroically bridging a generation gap for as long as their smirks allow. “I’ll bet yer sorry yer won” has never felt so apt. The irony being that Lennon and Harrison, in particular, are also changing and seem content to sit in big houses and make big music for a while. Paul and Ringo want to play. With that, a rock ‘n’ roll band gets ready to sleepwalk into a split and the rest is, well, history. The ebullient moments are plentiful and ever-present, but in looking forward to looking back The Beatles start playing a dangerous game and, as observers with the benefit of hindsight, viewers will sense something not quite right across the whole picture. The film ends with smiles and ciggies in the control room as a listen-back reveals the boys have still got it. But the future is glimpsed ominously earlier in a snatched conversation about Allen Klein between John and George when Paul happens to be out of the studio: “I just think he’s fantastic,” says John.
Get back to the future, eh. Essential viewing.
‘The Beatles: Get Back’ is a 2021 documentary series directed and produced by Peter Jackson. Watch it here.