'The Beatles: Get Back' Is Peter Jackson's Most Exhausting Trilogy Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney
Published Nov 26, 2021As Kanye West reminds audiences with each album cycle, announcing a big live event before you've actually finished any material is an act of hubris that sinks even the best musicians. Get Back was basically the 1969 version of Donda, as the Beatles made plans to perform a new album's worth of material in front of a live audience and gave themselves only a couple weeks to pull it together. Famously, it didn't go well.
Those ill-fated rehearsals (culminating in the iconic rooftop performance) were filmed and released as the 1970 documentary Let It Be. While that doc was a lean 80 minutes, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has now assembled them into a three-part series, Get Back, which clocks in at almost eight hours.
Jackson obviously knows his way around a marathon-length trilogy, but even Fab Four followers might wonder why The Beatles: Get Back needs to quite as long as it is. The implosion of the Beatles is less dramatic than one might have imagined — these candid clips don't capture dramatic blowups so much as boredom, mild annoyance and a tendency to get off-task. As George Harrison puts it at one point, "The Beatles have been in the doldrums for at least a year." Or, to quote Ringo Starr, "We've been grumpy for the last 18 months."
Even for songwriters as world-conqueringly great as the Beatles, this situation doesn't set them up for success. They spend a long time fumbling their way through unfinished versions of good-not-great songs like "Don't Let Me Down" and "Two of Us," and they play "I've Got a Feeling" about a million times. There are glimmers of what could have been: Paul McCartney's "Long and Winding Road" sounds better in solo rehearsals that it did in its Phil Spector or Naked forms, and the group tinker with a more rocking arrangement of John Lennon's "Across the Universe." Future solo tracks like Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and Lennon's "Jealous Guy" (here performed with its original "Child of Nature" lyrics) emerge for possible inclusion. Various Abbey Road cuts bounce around the sessions. Lennon and McCartney resurrect some bland early songs that aren't nearly as good as what they're capable of.
There are lots of moment of levity, but they're self-destructive rather than actually funny. John in particular makes a lot of jokes without displaying much wit — like when he plays a slapstick skiffle ditty while singing "shag that girl" with the petulant energy of a teenager acting out instead doing his homework. There are many chaotic noise jams, including a few with the ever-present Yoko Ono doing her vibrato scream overtop.
Complaining about Get Back being too long is a bit unfair, since being a fly on the wall is the whole point. But seriously — did we really need to see quite so many false starts as they fiddle with the arrangement of "Get Back"? Or all the versions of "I've Got a Feeling"? Or the many, many montages of them ironically singing in silly voices? At one point, mixer Glyn Johns tells Paul, "You're playing the same three or four songs for a week, or whatever, and you're flogging them to death. Obviously you're getting bored with them. It can't be any other way." We know he's right because of how tedious it is to watch them do it. As great as the climactic rooftop concert is, did we really need to see them play all three takes of "Get Back"? (Especially if you're like me and wouldn't rank "Get Back" in your top 50 Beatles songs.)
As a document of the breakdown of the Beatles, Get Back seems to exist for posterity rather than enjoyment. What it comes down to is: do you really want to watch eight hours of the Beatles' struggling their way through one of their lesser works? If the answer is yes, Get Back delivers. (Disney)