How good is Peter Jackson’s Beatles saga “Get Back”?

It is said that myths flourish best in secret. That in our present, in which everything is photographed and filmed, transmitted and commented on in real time, the magic has been lost because there is no more space for the imagination that can paint the empty spaces in a story and make it bigger than she really was. Brian Wilson’s unfinished “Smile” album, or the recordings Bob Dylan made in the Catskill Mountain Hermitage with his friends from The Band, were legendary in the late sixties. Because hardly anyone had heard it or knew anything about the background to its creation.

It seems a bit strange that the Beatles came up with the idea in 1969 that they could conjure up their old magic in front of the cameras. The opposite happened. In January 1969 they rehearsed for a television special that was to end in a big live comeback, in front of the eyes and lenses of the film crew of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and the microphones of sound engineer Glyn Johns. At the end of the month, however, they had not played a TV special or a highly acclaimed concert. But over 60 hours of film and over 100 hours of sound material, from which a year and many compromises later resulted in a mixed album and a rather agonizing film. The band didn’t exist anymore.

The New Zealander Peter Jackson now returns to 1969 to tell us this story in a three-part Documentation for Disney + to tell again. Chronologically. Day after day. He takes 437 minutes for this. But is it really interesting to watch the Beatles for almost eight hours as they rehearse their way through half-finished songs, eat sandwiches, drink tea, avoid conflicts, crack jokes and let themselves be carried away by chance or first inspiration? Definitely! And not only (but also!) Because of the rich colors that Jackson gave the restored film images. “Get Back” is an extremely entertaining intimate play about art and control, friendship and betrayal.

The documentary begins with a brief overview of the band’s career, which you need as a soundboard to follow the conversations of this three-act act. Because they are full of in-jokes and allusions to the common past. Then on a freezing winter morning we are in a huge unheated hall at Twickenham Film Studios. Film producer Dennis O’Dell rented the complex to work on Joseph McGrath’s “The Magic Christian” with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. Filming won’t start until the end of the month, as long as the Beatles can rehearse here. John Lennon brought Yoko Ono with him, George Harrison a Krishna disciple – seems to be a kind of passive-aggressive act in which the soon-to-be-emerging conflicts are hinted at. You can tell right from the start that the so-called “silent Beatle” doesn’t really feel like doing the project, Ringo Starr is more likely to be seen in the relatively early hours of the morning than in anticipation of a Beatles session. John Lennon flickers between absurd jokes and boredom, he actually only has one new song, “Don’t Let Me Down”, which he wants to play over and over again. Paul McCartney exudes energy and optimism and tries to pull the others away, presenting a new song idea almost every day; you can watch and hear him as he suddenly paddles around on the bass, “Get Back”.

All of this is not enough to sweep the others away, on the contrary. The mood is slowly changing – uncertainty is widespread. You can see it in the looks the four of them exchange, hear it in their performances and conversations. In what lies between the lines. In the absence of new songs, Lennon falls back on songs he wrote with McCartney in the late 1950s. The band session becomes more and more a dialogue between the two songwriters who try to recreate lost closeness through shared memories and maybe even rekindle the spark of their creative friendship. Harrison and Starkey are little more than extras. Until Harrison declared in little more than a subordinate clause shortly before lunch that he was leaving the band. “See you ’round the clubs.”

Actually, “Get Back” only begins here. With the reaction of those who stayed behind, the furor with which they plunged into songs like “I’ve Got A Feeling”, “Don’t Let Me Down” and, above all, a jam with Yoko Ono in the afternoon, in order to process the shock while George Martin and Apple CEO Neil Aspinall discuss Harrison’s motivations and the unhealthy dynamics within the band. Until finally Lindsay-Hogg, who pretends to be a young Orson Welles (including a cigar) calls everyone together for an emergency meeting. It’s touching to see Lennon, McCartney and Starr staring into space while Jackson runs Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity” in the background, the three of them standing in a circle, touching as if they had to support themselves. They are not finished yet, the bond between them is still strong, they can bring Harrison back. For this they sacrifice the live comeback and the TV special, yes, their (or McCartney’s) artistic vision. In fact, “Get Back” also seems to raise the question of the limits of the band concept – how long does such a grassroots, creative union work? Can a band still function if it is more or less incapable of acting due to all sorts of compromises and considerations?

The Beatles leave the inhospitable studio in Twickenham and move into the studio set up over the weekend in the basement of their Apple office building on Saville Row in the fashionable London borough of Mayfair. And suddenly the looks are friendlier, the gestures more open, the performances better, and Lennon finally has new songs again – “Dig A Pony” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. Together they make fun of what the press writes about their alleged breakup. Fists are said to have flown. Strangely inhibited, they talk about their time at the Maharishi in Rishikesh in early 1968.

When her old friend from Hamburg days, Billy Preston, stopped by for a visit, sat down at an electric piano and the song, with which they had been wrestling since the beginning of the sessions, “Don’t Let Me Down” suddenly took off, they seem to be a unit again. With the memories of her apprenticeship years on St. Pauli, the old magic is actually back. If only Lindsay-Hogg and McCartney didn’t push for a somehow spectacular end to the sessions with a concert, in order to close the film with a happy ending. First of all, dark clouds gather, Lennon talks about his meeting with the windy Stones manager Allen Klein and tries to convince Harrison of him behind McCartney’s back. It is this betrayal that would eventually lead to the end of the band three quarters of a year later. But there are only hints here. Harrison says that he is planning a solo album, George Martin advocates that “The Long And Winding Road” get a string arrangement and thus jumps aside avant la lettre Phil Spector, whose orchestral arrangement of the song McCartney will later enliven that he, too, is the last to have had enough of the Beatles.

When it turns out that the band cannot be taken on a plane to a Libyan amphitheater or a taxi to Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park, Lindsay-Hogg and Johns suggest that they just take the elevator and slam on the roof of the office building play in the basement of which they have settled. The Beatles’ reactions are subdued. McCartney holds back so as not to reappear as boss. Starr finally shows himself ready, then Lennon too, and finally even Harrison reluctantly. They keep it open until the last minute whether they really appear.

Even when they step on the roof, they seem skeptical. But with the first sound of “Get Back” all doubts are gone. The many rehearsals of the past few days have paid off. They have probably never played together in public with such force and tightness. One listens enthusiastically in the streets below. Only a few business people report disturbance of the peace, but the Beatles waited until their lunch break with their gig. Two bad-tempered police officers ring the doorbell at Number 3 Savile Row and find this noise “unnecessary”. Finally, after a tactical delay, the law enforcement officers are let on the roof, and you can see how McCartney senses the chance of a spectacular end to the film at the sight of them. “You’ve been out too long, Loretta,” he sings on a third run of “Get Back”. „You’ve been playing on the roof again/ And that’s no good/ Your mummy doesn’t like that/ She’s got to have you arrested.” But the bobbies remain friendly and do not yet know that their performance will fuel the myth that the last Beatles concert was stopped by the police.

The next day, the Beatles go back to the studio to record the songs that have not already been played on the roof for their new album. Jackson shows the pictures while the credits are running. McCartney sings “Two Of Us”, “The Long And Winding Road” and “Let It Be” – songs that are about friendship and love, but also about letting go. McCartney cannot do that at this point. After they have recorded the perfect take of “Let It Be”, he wants one last try “just to be safe”. Lennon winkt ab: „We’ve got so many of this bastard.“

Cover von „The Beatles: Get Back“

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