'Get Back' Beatles Doc Beats 'Let It Be' by a Billion
By Grace Brown, Columnist
On Thanksgiving Day, Disney+ released a new documentary covering the writing process of the “Let It Be” album, released in May of 1970. Though the Beatles recorded it in the first months of 1968, the band chose not to release it until later. The reason behind this, as well as much more controversial topics, are revealed in the “Get Back” documentary.
Directed by Peter Jackson, the docuseries is composed of footage shot during those early recording sessions, hours of music and conversations long hidden from the public view. It shines light on to the songwriting process of musical geniuses such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Even Ringo Starr demonstrates an aptitude for creating complex songs in the films, a generally overlooked star(r).
Yet, Jackson’s idea to document the interactions amongst the famous foursome is not an unprecedented idea. Michael Lindsay-Hogg of Apple Films directed a very similar documentary called “Let It Be,” which was released on May 10, 1970 — just two days after the namesake album. The production follows the composition process of the album, with special attention paid to the interactions between band members.
The controversy emerges when one considers the timing of the release of “Let It Be” (both the album and the documentary). The Beatles had broken up only a month before, in April of 1970, and the wounds were still very fresh.
The fan base was inconsolable, many still harboring hope for a re-banding. Who could blame them? The music of the Beatles had reached such a broad population worldwide, bringing joy, comfort and inspiration to countless people. To consider the termination of such a talented and lovable group was terrifying.
Alas, it was true; the Beatles were over. As a result, their fans wanted answers. Who started the trouble; who left first? Who was to blame for the catastrophe at hand?
Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary is arguably an effort to pacify these demands. The critically deemed “draggy” film lacks energy but rather features arguments and long looks between the bandmates. The entire production is haunted by the sensation of inevitable collapse between men who were once perceived as a “perfect family” by contemporary critics.
Apparently, the rough-cut version included about an hour’s worth more footage of John Lennon and his soon-to-be wife Yoko Ono, who is frequently accused of contributing to the band’s downfall. After the mates complained, saying she was irrelevant to the original premise of the filming (ie. how the band works), those scenes were cut.
However, the resulting project heavily depicted Paul McCartney as the leader of the Beatles. Since the death of their manager Brian Epstein in 1967, the premise of band organization had become hotly contested. The presentation of Paul as “head Beatle,” therefore, only served to further agitate the discontentedness brewing amongst the band and fans alike.
Accordingly, “Let It Be” proved to be a dreadfully depressing film, and it was received by the public as such. Some felt the documentary not only failed to showcase the music but similarly fell short of revealing the true character of the bandmates. Instead, viewers were forced to witness the “fractured relationships” and gradual demise of their loved musicians (The Sunday Telegraph).
That being said, the bar was set pretty low for Jackson’s “Get Back.” Or perhaps, on the contrary, Beatlemaniacs of all ages had been waiting expectantly for half a century to receive the gift of a decent documentary this Thanksgiving. It could be true that Jackson faced the challenge not only of building his own production up but of digging Hogg’s out of a whole, as well.
“Get Back” is considerably longer than “Let It Be,” forcing it to be split into two separate two-and-a-half-hour episodes. However, this format enables a better progression between events transpiring between the band in January of 1968; there is more room to develop ideas and lead to resolution.
The first episode echoes the atmosphere of “Let It Be,” as the guys rehearse in a cold, empty movie-set at Twickenham Film Studios in London. Tensions brewed between the members and (SPOILER ALERT) George Harrison quit immediately before the end. At this point, the piece seemed hollowly reminiscent of Hogg’s drab portrayal of the band as feuding friends grasping fruitlessly at a peaceful past of professional prowess.
Yet those viewers with sufficient dedication to keep watching were rewarded with reconciliation promptly into the second episode, as the Beatles rebanded at Apple Studios. Continuing to work on the album improved their relations and reignited the creative flame which bonded them and facilitated incomparable success in the past of their communal career.
By the finale of “Get Back,” the culmination of the impromptu rooftop concert at Apple Studios provides a sense of resolution to viewers strung out suspensefully by the lingering tension between band members. Even the most enthusiastic fans among us will be satisfied to see the group return to their mop-top roots, performing for a crowd so mesmerized they must be confined by police — a seemingly symbolic replication of the crazed girls who welcomed the boys years earlier in the height of Beatlemania.
Once again, Disney proved themselves leaders in the film production industry, unlimited by genre, topic or era. “Get Back” allows viewers to peer into the chemistry of the Beatles, and observe the Fab Four with unprecedented intimacy. More importantly, the love shared between the bandmates is evident in the close-up footage of disagreement and disappointment.
As an audience, we are left with greater appreciation for the four musicians we care so sincerely for, as well as gratitude for an opportunity to get to see and know them more honestly.