In January 1969, two years since they last played live, and more mature after their spectacular international success had flamed out – but surely not their genius – The Beatles gathered in a plain, cavernous studio in suburban London. To chat, strum, regroup, and see if they could muster enough new material for a live show in two weeks. These poignant, tense, creative days were documented at the time by filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and released in cinemas as Get Back, an account of the band’s demise derided at the time as depressing. But now the footage and the events it witnessed are reprised and reappraised by Middle-earth’s own Peter Jackson, a lifelong megafan of the Fab Four. You’d have to be such a fan, to have got your head around not just the nuances of these autumnal days of “the world’s most beloved and influential rock band” (The New York Times), but the 55 hours of unseen footage, and 140 hours of unheard audio, which captured it. The resulting series is seven hours long…
After whisking us through the extraordinary early years of The Beatles as a prelude, it is genuinely astonishing to see, in images as crisp as if shot this morning, these four, handsome “charismatic men (not yet in their thirties) at work and at play (mostly) in sweet and loving harmony. The film that unfolds is full of indelible scenes and startling moments”, writes Kevin Maher in The Times. But here is the promise and peril of this series. It contains great beauty in the pure creativity of four brilliant musicians making up classics on the spot (like Let it Be, or the song Get Back). It’s also painful, says Alex Flood in the NME, as “gradually things start to break down: the band bickering, frustrations boiling over, and Harrison’s sudden decision to quit”.
Must welcomes a full-blown, long-form epic. They can be catnip for our click-whittled attention. But it’s the “long and winding” quality of The Beatles: Get Back that may test non-superfans. Once upon a time, this would have gone out at 9pm on a Sunday, run for 90 minutes and been devoured at a single sitting. Here we find ourselves almost too present, dropped by a 21st Century streamer into 1960s Twickenham, for what can feel like days at a time. That’s an experience Owen Gleiberman in Variety finds “addictive and essential”. Must agrees Get Back is probably both of those, only as long as you have the time – more than seven hours in fact.
First shown November 2021.