2021, TV

The Beatles: Get Back (2021)

Full disclosure: I’ve actually never seen Let It Be, believe it or not.

This is Peter Jackson’s attempt to correct the record on Let It Be, the Beatles’ last-but-not-really-last album and its accompanying film, and the recordings they were based on, including the band’s final live show. It’s clearly the work of a fan, someone determined to show what really happened, not what the movie led people to believe. Like I said, I haven’t seen the movie, but my general impression of others’ impressions of Let It Be is that the Beatles were miserable and hated each other.

Part way through watching this we watched Some Kind of Monster and it was interesting watching two extremely successful bands, 30 years apart, trying to record something while they didn’t get along. Of course, Metallic was in therapy while they shot their film, a thoroughly 21st century thing to do, whereas the Beatles just stuck with a film. It does feel like Some Kind of Monster was likely inspired, in part, by the original film culled from these tapes.

This miniseries combed through hundreds of hours of footage to narrow it down to slightly less than 8 hours whereas Let It Be is around 80 minutes. Even for someone who never actually got around to watching the original movie, it feels like a revelation. Yes, the Beatles were absolutely miserable when they were recording in the film studio, so miserable Harrison temporarily quit. But obsessive fans already knew that. It’s how much fun they had afterward that feels like it was left out of the story.

The colour is spectacular and the sound quality is nearly always flawless (or as flawless as it could be). This is a pretty incredible remastering job. (I would expect nothing less from Peter Jackson.) And they do a pretty seamless job of integrating the audio they don’t have matching visuals for with visuals (even if a couple are repeated). Technically, it’s extremely impressive.

From a story perspective it also works pretty well, building from fractious initial sessions to a triumphant final public performance (spoiler alert). It’s kind of hard to convey how well this is done, particularly in the final episode, which takes it’s time to build to the climax we (well, most of us) know is coming. (Jenn had never heard of this concert, apparently.)

And, for a fan, it was really neat to see where all these recordings came from. I’ve heard Let It Be and Abbey Road more times than I can count but I’ve also heard Anthology 3 many, many times, but I’ve never seen the performances in the context they were recorded in and it’s neat.

It lacks some context. It’s made by fans for fans. Though there is a brief introduction in the first episode there is a lot of information that isn’t in this that might help explain why certain things happen. The most glaring thing is Harrison’s departure. I don’t know what it’s like for non-fans to watch but I felt like they must feel like it seems pretty irrational and extreme. Of course, that had been building for a really long time and there’s only the tiniest bits of information about why he might be mad. That gets better the further we get into the show and the more we see them interact, but I do feel like it could have provided a little more context. There’s no information about what happened to Get Back to turn it into Let It Be over a year later, for example. (I assume that the filmmakers know the internet exists and trust you to read everything you need to know about them.)

Another minor criticism: though “Don’t Let Me Down” is one of my favourite Beatles songs and I like “Get Back” I’m not sure I need to hear either of them for a long time after this. I don’t know how many times they play either – as well as “I’ve Got a Feeling” and a few others – but it’s more than I think I needed.

But a necessary corrective and as well done as I could imagine.


PS: If you don’t know, I wrote a book about this band:

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