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What’s one more opinion in the Beatleverse, right?
First of all….. to me, Peter Jackson’s Get Back version is remarkably similar in its construction to the original Let It Be movie. That isn’t exactly a huge revelation. The exact same story is being told. The Beatles get together with a very loose plan to do an album and a live show or a tv special or a movie…. start rehearsals at Twickenham, have a bust up, move to Apple Studios, get it together and play on the roof. That’s exactly what happened in the original movie. Only, it tried to tell the story in about 80 minutes. Peter Jackson does it in about 480 minutes….. The first version wasn’t wrong at all…. it was just incomplete in that it didn’t take (or have) the time to tell the story…… And that’s fair enough. It was 1969/70. This was 20 years before anyone had even conceived of what we now call “reality tv”. The idea that the original project would have been as long as Peter Jackson’s version is ludicrous. Even the mighty Beatles would have been laughed out of the room by any TV or movie executive of the day.
“You want to what? Run 8 hours of you guys sitting around talking about making an album? Sorry, we’ll take a pass.”
A few things worth noting, to me…..
–Magic Moments: there were so many, and widely covered by others….. so I won’t dwell on this in too much detail. Everyone will have a favourite. Paul McCartney birthing Get Back.… the surreptitiously recorded conversation between John Lennon and McCartney after George Harrison had left (more about that in a moment)…. McCartney looking close to tears as you can almost see it dawning at him that this may be it for the band he’s been in, and loved being a part of, with his best mates, since he was a kid…. One of my favourites was in episode two, when one of the clapper/loaders…. a kid (guessing him to be about 18 years old) …. is sitting right beside McCartney at the piano. McCartney is explaining something about how to play piano, and plays a snippet of Martha My Dear. The look on the kid’s face! That kid, Paul Bond is his name, who is probably pushing 70 years old now, is so wonderful. It really was magic to watch. You can just see that he’s sitting there thinking “I’m sitting beside Paul McCartney and he’s playing Martha My Dear for me on the piano….” I’ll bet he has dined out on that story his whole life. I hope he has.
-Now, to the original director of the project, Michael Lindsay-Hogg. I’ve seen him taking a lot of stick on social media…. big shocker there, of course (social media being the paragon of intelligent civil discourse). IMHO, you’re an idiot if you’re one of those slagging him off….. and I’ll explain why I think that in a moment….. Full marks to Lindsay-Hogg and the original DOP, Tony Richmond. All of that brilliant footage was supplied by them. I was really into the fact that Lindsay-Hogg became a character in the Peter Jackson version of Get Back. There was an entire narrative of Lindsay-Hogg trying to shoot this intimate biopic of The Fabs making the record… with a big payoff for the ending….. with the Beatles then stonewalling him on many occasions. There’s one point where one of the Beatles asks him how the documentary is going and he replies, something along the lines of (I’m memory quoting here) “if we’re doing a documentary on nose picking and ear scratching….. we’ve got some great stuff….”
Lindsay-Hogg said, years later in his autobiography, “With the Beatles, I found an idea was something to be mauled, like a piece of meat thrown into an animal cage.”
–The true star of the show? The de-mixing audio technology that was used. Without a doubt. That technology allowed the filmmakers to take dialogue from sources that were previously unusable. According to Peter Jackson, knowing they were being recorded, The Beatles, when they wanted to have what they regarded as a private conversation, would just turn up their amps and strum aimlessly on their guitars while they were talking. That rendered the audio unusable. Their words were drowned out by the sounds of the guitars. However, with artificial intelligence driven de-mixing technology, they were able to remove the guitar sound and be left with usable audio of the dialogue that was taking place. That dialogue provided the narrative. It was the spine of the entire production.
–Editing: Watch the film closely if you go back to rewatch it….. there are countless occasions where what you’re hearing is not what is on the film….. They had about 60 hours of film footage….. but over 150 hours of recorded audio…..much of the audio in the get Back film is audio from the more than 150 hours recorded on Nagra reel to reel recorders. This fact is given away in the opening credits, which say: “Numerous editorial choices had to be made during the production of these films. Scenes that contain audio only material have been supplemented with representative pictures. At all times the film-makers have attempted to present an accurate portrait of the events depicted and the people involved.” In other words….. if we have good audio and no video of them talking during a session…. we’ll use film from that session that may not have been taken at the same time the audio was recorded. Brilliant and, again, to me, the star of the film. If you watch closely you can see countless occasions where this is happening…… but, you have to watch for it, because it is so well edited.
-And, speaking of audio….. How about the surreptitiously recorded conversation between McCartney and Lennon after George Harrison had left the band? When the microphone had been hidden in the flowers on the table?…. That, to me, was absolutely incredible to hear. The rawness of it. The honesty. John pointing out that “they had created a festering wound and we didn’t give him any bandages” you wonder how that didn’t make it into the original movie? (Easy: There is absolutely no way either the Beatles themselves or powers that be at Apple at the time would have allowed it). That aside, there were a few other examples of things I saw in Get Back that made me wonder: “How could that have not gone in the original cut of Let It Be?” An obvious example being when McCartney is essentially giving birth to Get Back, while he sits there, strumming on his bass, while Ringo and George listen in…. How could you watch that and NOT put it in the film? There were also a few beautiful tracking shots that, again, I find it hard to believe that somebody watched and decided to not use. My theory on that, is this:
-As was evident in the film, the Beatles never really fully embraced or seemed comfortable with the idea of the documentary. For that matter, the entire Let It Be/Get Back project was a bit of an unloved child. Audio and film sat on shelves while the Beatles quickly went on and started work on what was to become Abbey Road. They rejected a couple of Glyn Johns mixes for the album….. and eventually handed it over to Phil Spector, – 14 months (!) after it was recorded…. Abbey Road had been recorded and released before they could even be bothered to throw all of the tapes over to Spector. It was, at the time, a begrudging “we have to get something out of that” then a project they were excited and engaged with. My point being, and theory, is that Michael Lindsay-Hogg, I’ll bet, was pretty much left on his own to edit the film and given little feedback or encouragement with minimal Beatles involvement. The band had essentially broken up. He likely knew that. They probably didn’t give a shit, at that point, about a film they weren’t really into in the first place…. that had been shot almost a year and a half ago. For his part, Lindsay-Hogg had other work on the go. He was an in-demand, talented young director. At that time, the Let It Be project was not the film he wanted to make. He’d done the Rock and Roll Circus with the Rolling Stones.…. he’d done the Hey Jude video with the Beatles….. both really cool projects. Let It Be didn’t end up being what he’d signed on for. You can see that weighing on him in the Get Back documentary. He must have thought: “Wow! This is going to be great! It’s The Beatles! They’ll do a show! We’ll be in some spectacular venue! It will look amazing! This could be career defining!” Instead, he gets four fairly disinterested guys who can’t be arsed to go any further than the top of their office building in central London. That’s a long way from The Roundhouse or an amphitheatre in Tunisia or even, for that matter, a club in London. So…. I think that Lindsay-Hogg’s enthusiasm for the project had probably waned somewhat and he likely just wanted to get it done…. and get on with other, more satisfying projects.
–My final observation is this: I think that part of the appeal of The Beatles, and what makes this documentary as accessible to obsessive fans and casual fans alike is that, in many ways, we feel as though we’ve been hanging out with them for the last 30 or 40 years (or longer). Now, I’m well aware that it’s a lot of bullshit….. we don’t know them. We’ve never met them. We don’t know them the way true friends and loved ones do…… what we know are, in many cases, carefully curated images of each of their personas….. But, that said, there isn’t another band…. and, in fact, probably there aren’t many other individuals, whose lives have been more copiously documented for as long a period of time as the two surviving Beatles and the two no longer with us Beatles. The number of books, documentaries, print, audio and video interviews (podcasts)….. first or second hand accounts of their actions…… the mind boggles. We feel like we know them; so it feels perfectly natural to, essentially, be a fly on the wall, sitting in those rooms with them, while they interact with one another….. We’ve all been in that room before, by listening to them, watching them and reading all of the books and interviews. That’s a huge reason why it all works, I think.
I also think, on a more macro level, that it’s really all just one big play on interpersonal relationships with those you love and are close to or maybe even work closely with. If you have a spouse, a brother or sister, if you’ve been a teammate or collaborate closely with work colleagues….. you’ve been there. That delicate give and take….that making sure everyone feels included….. or what it’s like to be excluded and not on the same wave length… elation and hubris and sadness and regret … That is ALL of us. And that is what, to me, gives this documentary the punch that it has. It’s four people that we all feel we kinda know, in situations that we most definitely know and have lived to some degree. It’s about relationships – and sometimes you want to Get Back….. and sometimes you just need to Let It Be.
As always, glad to hear your thoughts on my thoughts. You can leave a comment below.
Great observations. Well put Paul. I agree with you on many points. It’s nice to see a defense of Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Most importantly your ending thoughts on no one really truly knowing The Beatles other then those close to them. We don’t but we feel like we do and that’s a wonderful feeling. Thanks.
It’s special for sure. One of the biggest reasons for the enduring appeal of the Fabs, no doubt.
Glad you enjoyed the piece.
Nice insights. I have been resisting the theater version, but thanks to this appraisal, I am now hopeful of seeing the full 480 min-length documentary.