During the month of January in 1969, the Beatles came together to create a multimedia project that would include a TV special, a live show (their first in years), and a documentary. This was the genesis of Get Back, an intimate look at the Beatles’ composition of two of their most heralded albums, Abbey Road (1969) and Let it Be (1970). The group—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—sat in their studio (and various other locations) to record new songs for a live show sometime later in the month. The entire time, cameras were watching them, recording their laughs, disputes, mistakes, tea breaks, and hit-making. This docuseries consists of three episodes, each averaging 2.5 hours in length, and was released on Disney+ this past Thanksgiving weekend.
Director Peter Jackson did a fantastic job of weaving the vast amount of footage into a coherent narrative. It feels as though you are sitting in the room with the group (and the awkward film crew), laughing along with their jokes, and dancing along to their tunes. For fans of the Beatles, this is a must-watch. The documentary chronicles the creation of several of their greatest hits, like “Let it Be,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” and more.
There’s something magical about Get Back—it just feels natural. The whole of the series shows the Beatles in an unfiltered setting. They sometimes make dirty jokes (like John Lennon parodying the lyrics from “I’ve Got a Feeling” to “I’ve Got a Hard-On”), and they sometimes get into real creative disagreements that shake the entire production to its core. At some point in the beginning of the documentary, George Harrison decides to temporarily leave the group in pursuit of his own creative autonomy. This forces the rest of the Beatles to compromise and accommodate for the different directions each member wants to take the project toward.
Indeed, the group begins their month-long journey lacking intention and in need of inspiration. Throughout the series, together they form an idea and concept for the direction they want to take the project in. This process unfolds right in front of the audience in such a clear and clean way that only a skilled director and production crew can pull off. Paul, Ringo, and Yoko Ono were on this crew, capturing the energy of the room they all sat in years ago and delivering it to the audience.
There are moments in this documentary that are extremely memorable. George excitedly showing off his new song that he wrote the previous night: “I Me Mine.” John and Yoko discussing the artistic vision for the show while Paul freestyles “Let it Be” on the piano in the background. Ringo cheerily announcing in the middle of a serious conversation, “I just farted. I was just going to look at you, and not tell you. But then I decided I might as well tell you.” These wonderful moments offer the audience a unique taste of the Beatles that is surprisingly long-overdue. It is astonishing that this footage has been sitting in some room for countless years, waiting to be watched by millions of Beatles fans worldwide.
Also featured in Get Back is great American musician Billy Preston, who slays on the organ during most of these sessions. Surprisingly, Billy is credited on much of Let it Be, as most of the final recordings of the songs on the album were during the filming of Get Back. The Beatles and Billy Preston get along well, and the chemistry is not reserved for the band only. There are extraordinary moments of Billy freestyling on the organ while Paul or John join in and just jam out. Get Back is also a great opportunity to watch the Beatles perform covers of popular songs. Often throughout the series, the group will cover some songs to warm themselves up. Featured are works by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and Paul’s obsession with Elvis Presley.
The docuseries has a lot in store for anyone who wants to tackle its nearly eight-hour runtime. While Jackson did a wonderful job at keeping the flow of the filming natural and lighthearted, there is still a lot of footage to sift through, even as the audience. Get Back was certainly an ambitious task to make a reality. With Jackson describing the film as “a documentary about a documentary,” the series often breaks the fourth wall in hopes of connecting to the audience throughout the long duration. Perhaps it wouldn’t be possible to make the feature itself so lengthy without moments of direct connection to the audience. There are countless moments of John looking directly into the camera and cracking another gaff, followed by a ba-dum-tss existing within his head.
The series culminates in the famous rooftop show that marked the Beatles’ last live performance. The forty-two minute extravaganza was an impromptu concert that saw Brits gathering around on the street (and some even going up to adjacent rooftops) to listen to the new Beatles music. This moment is a wonderful display of the sheer popularity of the band at the time. Over a hundred people stopped what they were doing in the middle of the day to listen to the Beatles play their instruments and mess around. In all honesty, the band didn’t even perform a full set; they just played whatever new songs they wanted, over and over again. This made the ending a little unsatisfying, as it would have been great to see them play all the songs they’d been working on throughout the duration of the studio sessions.
Get Back is a must-watch for Beatles fans. The footage offers a lot to audiences and is sure to be entertaining. While the long runtime is daunting, the series doesn’t necessarily require the full attention of the viewer, as it is mostly banter and good music. This would be a great background film to throw on when a few friends are over. I highly recommend this series as a fun watch for all, not just hardcore devotees of the group. At its core, Get Back is just a few friends having fun doing what they love, and what more can you ask for than that?