Get Back resuscitates the glorious fun of John, Paul, George and Ringo
About halfway through Peter Jackson’s epic documentary The Beatles: Come BackJohn Lennon asks the group a question. “What should we do that is fun?” ” he asks. “In addition to work.” The entire 468 minutes of this astonishing historical document shows the world’s greatest pop group at work – recording an album, shooting a movie, planning a show – but at very few moments in the process, you have the feel like they’re not having fun.
Okay, there is the moment when George Harrison leaves the group telling his colleagues “to more Beatles portrait, taken from 56 hours of never-before-seen and flying footage on the wall, reveals a group of people who, even in such an intense and creative situation, seem to like each other’s company and respect what each brings to the collective effort.
As you would expect from an eight-hour movie that consists mostly of four people sitting in one room, there are periods of length that even the Beatles fundamentalist can find grueling. But that was 1969, long before smartphones, and people weren’t so afraid of loneliness, or inactivity, or even boredom.
So there are pauses for reflection, moments of complete silence, and many occasions where Paul and John just looked at each other. We didn’t know what they were thinking. Can you imagine a similar scene today? All the action, as it was, took place in this room, not in another virtual dimension. Without the cacophony of social media, people lived exclusively in the present at this time, and you don’t have to be an old jerk to believe life was better for it.
It’s easy to get nostalgic for it all, but it’s a truly moving experience to see these people at the height of their powers take such delight at the great luck of being born so talented. And they turn out to be modest with that. One of the remarkable, if not strange, aspects of The Beatles’ chemistry is the complete lack of complacency. Not once do they step back and admire their genius as much less talented performers might do today. Instead, they’re looking for ways to improve their songs. It is only at the very end of the film, after their final and triumphant take of “Let It Be”, that John allows himself a certain satisfaction. “I think it was pretty grandiose,” he says.
When he set about making sense of the miles of footage that had been in a vault for 50 years, Jackson confessed his biggest fear that “one or more of these guys will turn out to be a prima.” donna or an asshole ”. He said he came away “more respectful of who they are than when I started.”
In this case, the camera couldn’t lie. The images capture every moment of surprise, every inconsequential exchange, every detail. And even though their fame stretched from Birkenhead to Burkina Faso, there was a mundane, familial charm to their daily existence: the endless supplies of tea and toast, Ringo lying on the floor reading personal finance pages. from the Daily Mail. , George asks if someone could get him a pair of size 8 black leather slip-on shoes “because I’m never in shoe stores”.
John may find himself to work in a white Rolls-Royce with a driver, but there is an almost complete absence of what we have come to recognize as the right to fame. They are men at work. The women present only strike because they play such a peripheral role – Yoko constantly at John’s side but silent, and Linda McCartney an occasional supporting presence – and the day-to-day work is far from glamorous.
Even the new songs are introduced in a relaxed and pragmatic way. When Paul, before our eyes, writes “Get Back”, starting with that familiar bass riff, it’s like watching a rainbow unfold. But for George and Ringo, sitting in chairs, listening, it’s just another day at the office. George yawns as Paul sings.
It’s a period piece, okay, but what a period it was. I don’t know how to live in the present, but for eight wonderful hours we could live in the past. And it was hard not to take advantage of it every moment.