‘Get Back’: Meet the Beatles Once Again, Courtesy of the Most Emotional Fab Four Doc Ever
One of the countless perfect moments in Get Back, the new three-part docuseries which begins streaming today on Disney+: The Beatles jam on a new Paul McCartney song called “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.” They love this tune. George Harrison wilds out on guitar. Ringo Starr bangs the drums. John Lennon pounds the piano, bouncing off Paul in a mocking counterpoint. Paul: “So I quit the police department.” John: “Get a job, gob!” Paul: “Got myself a proper job.” John: “Bloody ‘bout time, too, if ya ask me!” All Beatles are totally in sync, cracking each other up. They have a four-way telepathy nobody else can share. Four boys on top of the world. All together now.
The next day, George quits the band. Hey, everybody had a hard year.
Get Back is a Thanksgiving feast for fans — nearly eight hours of hanging with the Beatles. It’s funnier, louder, sadder, realer than anyone even hoped. But it’s not really about the making of an album or a concert. It’s a stunningly intimate portrait of a friendship — the world’s favorite foursome, then as now. John, Paul, George and Ringo have come to symbolize the whole idea of a team, a collective, crazy kids taking a stand against the world. They’ve also come to embody the idea of breaking up. In Get Back, you can see that bond starting to fall apart. But you also see how hard they’re fighting to hold on.
Related: Watch The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+ here
Director Peter Jackson took on Get Back in 2017, and by now, it must be the most feverishly anticipated rock doc ever. He originally planned it as a two-hour feature, but it’s finally airing on Disney’s streaming channel in three installments, from November 25th – 27th. He digs into a treasure trove of footage from the vaults, with surprises that not even the most hardcore Beatle bootleg scavengers know about. (Jackson is already talking about an 18-hour director’s cut, and all I can say is, don’t leave me standing here. Lead me to your door.)
Get Back follows the Fabs in January 1969, trying to whip up a new album that will become their bittersweet farewell Let It Be. The band invited a film crew to turn their rehearsals into a movie. It all builds up to their famous rooftop concert at the end of the month, their last public performance. The movie Let It Be became an infamously miserable portrait of the band splitting apart. Anyone who’s seen it can tell you the ugly reputation is deserved.
Jackson went into the vaults to go through 60 hours of footage — as he told Rolling Stone last year, he was dreading it. “I thought, ‘If what we’ve seen is the stuff they allowed people to see, what are the other 55 hours going to be like?’” But the fruits of his labor aren’t a one-dimensional buzzkill like Let It Be. There’s mirth, music, madcap laughs. The Beatles fight. They sulk. They drive each other crazy. It’s a complex, messy friendship. But even in these tense conditions, they’re constantly striving to impress one another.
Get Back goes day by day, building up to the rooftop concert. It’s basically a “can they make it to the show on time?” caper — the same plot as A Hard Day’s Night. There’s no annoying talking heads or celebrity interviews. It’s all them. “That’s what’s nice about this upcoming Get Back film by Peter Jackson,” Paul told Rolling Stone this summer. “You see the little quiet moments. It did mean that he ended up with an 80-hour edit, because he’s just very respectfully kept all these little moments. But I’m sure there’ll be some fans who will want the 80-hour.”
Those “quiet moments” are the heart of the film, and they’re packed with emotional details. Ringo offers Yoko a stick of gum. Linda and Yoko whisper while the boys play “Let It Be.” George floors the others with an acoustic version of a Bob Dylan outtake. Paul plays “Strawberry Fields Forever” at the piano while John sits a few feet away, hunched over his guitar, trying to act cool, pretending this moment doesn’t mean a thing to him.
Some worried that Get Back would sanitize the band’s conflicts, but that’s not the case. Their abrasive sides are on display, from John’s gum-chewing side-eye to Paul’s bossy rants. George, as always, rules as the Queen Bitch of this band. Get Back is a treasure trove of Salty George moments, like when he drily asks Paul, “Is this one called ‘I’ve Got a Feeling?’” He’s a key reason the Beatles were one of the movies’ all-time great comedy teams, in addition to everything else they were.
The most famous scene from the original Let It Be is Paul and George sparring over a guitar part. George scoffs, “Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” He pauses with his icy glare. “But I don’t think you really know what that one is.” George could really turn on the Bette Davis when he wanted to.
But in Get Back, the moment hits hard because you see it in context — the song they’re arguing about is “Two of Us.” When you witness the joyful eye contact between Paul and John, as they harmonize, you can also see the rage smolder on George’s face. (No poker player, Harrison.) No wonder this is the song that pissed him off; it must have been agonizing to feel blocked out of that John/Paul duet. Everybody else on earth treats George like a world-class artist, including peers like Dylan and the Band. But the Beatles still treat him like a little kid.
Even Ringo, the stoic saint of infinite patience, gets his hackles up. (Who knew Ringo had hackles?) When the director casually says it’s the end of the band, Ringo snaps. “You’re only surmising that. Just ‘cause we got a bit grumpy!” It’s touching to see Ringo close ranks to defend his mates. The Beatles can knock each other all day, but even at that point, they won’t let any outsider step to them. The only non-Beatle they really seem to trust is their loyal road manager Mal Evans — the secret hero of the movie, the Sam to these four Frodos.
Over the years, Yoko has been stupidly maligned as an intruder at the sessions. But Get Back finally destroys that myth. She’s there because John needs her there, only she’s not interfering. There’s a priceless scene where they’re working on “Don’t Let Me Down,” while Yoko, the woman who inspired John to write this soul-baring confession reaches over and brushes a few crumbs off his shoulder. She reads the newspaper, while John wails, “It’s a love that lasts forever!”
Paul always gets to the studio early, before the others have probably woken up. In one great scene, he sits at the piano to demonstrate how he writes songs, striking up “Martha My Dear.” “From there,” he explains, “unless you stop yourself, there’s no stopping yourself!” A perfect Paul proverb.
He also brings in his girlfriend, rock photographer Linda Eastman. He introduces her to a camera man, then adds, “Linda’s a camera man.” Then he sits at the piano to run through some stunning new tunes: “Golden Slumbers,” “Another Day,” “The Long and Winding Road.” The songs aren’t finished, but he’s just showing off for Linda. He’s determined to dazzle this woman.
(This detail cannot be over-stressed: Paul has already decided Linda is the love of his life. He is correct. They’re inseparable for the next 29 years, until her dying day. At this point, he’s still a young rock star, not to mention the most adored bachelor on earth, but that doesn’t faze him. He has total emotional confidence in this life decision. He is 26 years old. Let’s face it: as a culture, we haven’t even begun to fathom the mysteries of Paul McCartney. The gods made only one of him.)
But there’s constant tension between the band and the film crew. The director can’t stop interrupting the music to nag them. There’s an ugly scene where the band has left for the day, so the crew guys pick up their instruments and jam.(Haven’t they seen A Hard Days Night? Nobody touches Ringo’s drums! They loom large in his legend.)
One morning, John tells George about this man he just met last night: rock manager Allen Klein. John raves, “He knows me as much as you do! Incredible guy.” Given Klein’s role in the band’s demise, it’s a sad scene. The Titanic has just grazed the iceberg.
Meanwhile, the deadline keeps looming, as the days count down to the rooftop concert. When George Martin frets they don’t have enough songs, Paul assures him, “We’ve still got a lot more songs we haven’t even rehearsed. Two slow ones we’re doing, ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘Brother Jesus.’” But under the jaunty surface, even Paul is getting worried. As he admits, “To wander aimlessly is very unswinging.” When they finally make it to the roof, you can see they’re relieved, but they’re also surprised how great they sound. At the end of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” John can’t resist yelling “fuck yeah!” (Somehow this made it to the version they released.)
But the most poignant scene in Get Back comes after George quits. Nobody knows if he’ll come back. People sit around to complain about Yoko, but Paul sticks up for her. He quips, “It’s going to look so comical in 50 years time: ‘They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp!’” Everyone laughs, but you can see the grief in Paul’s eyes. His life is changing, he knows it, and he’s in the middle of something he really doesn’t understand. Nobody had any idea this moment was captured on film until Peter Jackson told Rolling Stone last year. It sums up everything indelible about Get Back. At the center of the chaos, it’s just four boys, trying to steal a moment or two to play music together. It’s a friendship that’s faltering, but you can see why all four of them are fighting to keep it going, even in their hour of darkness.