Peter Jackson's 'Get Back' is a Revelation for Beatles Fans

(L to R) Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. Photo by Linda McCartney. © 2020 Apple Corps Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
(L to R) Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. Photo by Linda McCartney. © 2020 Apple Corps Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Thanksgiving weekend provided a massive gift for Beatles fans as director Peter Jackson unveiled The Beatles: Get Back, his epic 8-hour docuseries about the recording sessions that culminated in the original Let It Be album and film released in 1970. With access to over 150 hours of unheard audio and 60 hours of unseen footage, Jackson almost completely re-writes conventional wisdom about the breakup of the band and opens an intimate window into their relationships, creative process, and late '60s British pop culture.

But not everyone has the time to parse every minute of this magnum opus like your typical Beatle-ologist, or that annoying guy on Twitter with "many opinions." So here at Telly Visions we are serving up some of the best mains and sides to fill your plate, and help you decide whether and how to invest your viewing hours. We think you will find there is much to interest more casual Beatles fans and Anglophiles in general. So here in no particular order are some of the most revealing and beguiling moments unearthed and lovingly restored in The Beatles: Get Back.

Sorry, Yoko Did Not Break Up the Band. One of the true joys of this film is watching this old chestnut busted wide open with Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Yes, Yoko is a constant presence by John's side during the recording sessions, but her overall innocuous benevolence (and slight boredom) has little impact on the interactions of the band members. And if you consider quietly reading your mail, knitting, or helpfully rolling joints to be deliberately provocative actions, then I guess there is no convincing some people. Because that is literally all Yoko does for the most part.

Tea, Toast and Smokes. What can be more British? Some of the greatest songs in the history of popular music were composed by four men fueled primarily by toast and jam. And Jackson must have used serious digital magic to remove the clouds of cigarette smoke that hung over the proceedings. Thank goodness we don't yet have smell-o-vision.

Group Projects Require Leadership and Schedules. The basic "plan" for the "Get Back" sessions was to compose and record 14 new songs in three weeks, film it all for a TV program or movie, and then cap it all off with a live performance. The problem was no one was specifically in charge, there was a hard deadline based on Ringo's availability, and no real set schedule. Luckily, or not depending on your perspective, Paul McCartney steps into the breach taking on the role once filled by manager Brian Epstein (who died in 1967). Tension and general chaos ensue, and Paul, in a remarkable bit of emotional intelligence, realizes “I’m scared of me being the boss."

Paul Is a Bigger Musical Genius Than We All Imagined. In one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in the docuseries, Paul sits down and fiddles on his bass guitar. Two minutes later he has created the basic structure for the song "Get Back", which became a worldwide #1 hit single in April, 1969.

There Will Be Tears. Like an episode of Call the Midwife, there are tissue box moments interspersed throughout. If you are a huge Beatles fan you will cry. Because it is sad to watch something you love start to unravel. Also, Paul himself gets misty at the beginning of Part 2 when it looks like George, and possibly John, have left the group. If you care at all about these people or their music you will lose it, so be prepared.

Taking the Piss. Are you a fan of deadpan British humor and coded, sardonic putdowns? You will find them in abundance here, especially emanating from the sharp tongue of one John Lennon (at least when he was not stoned out of his gourd, which was a lot of the time).

Being the Third Wheel Sucks. Want to see what love looks like? When John and Paul lock-in at various points in the film there is no one else in the universe. And George, as the "junior" songwriting partner looking from the outside, knows he can never move up in the pecking order. Unfortunately for the group, and fortunately for him, George is already sitting on a treasure trove of hits that will eventually become part of his hugely successful first solo album.

Even a Beatle Can Have Imposter Syndrome. In a very painful sequence George Harrison laments that his guitar playing abilities are just not up to snuff, and compares himself highly unfavorably to former guitar god and current vax denier Eric Clapton. It's one of the many moments that reveal these musical icons are actual living, breathing human beings.

Fashion, Turn to the Left; Fashion, Turn to the Right. Appropriately, the second half of the series takes place in the Beatles-owned Apple Studio on Savile Row, a street famous as the center of men's tailored fashion in London. And if you are at all into late '60s mod/hippie fashion, one of the highlights of the chronologically-organized documentary is to see what the Beatles are wearing as they arrive each morning. Bright-colored jumpers abound, along with Paul's signature vests, George's floppy hat and psychedelic slippers, and Ringo's plentiful loud scarves. But the real breakout star of the show is producer Glyn Johns, who moves from one radically-cool outfit to another daily.

Chatting About What Was On Telly Last Night. So maybe it will blow your mind, or not. But after a day of writing and rehearsing some of the greatest songs in the history of rock 'n' roll, the Beatles went home and watched the Beeb. And discussed it at great length the next morning, over tea and toast, of course.

The Flowerpot on the Cafeteria Table is Bugged. The director of the original film, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, placed hidden microphones around the studio to capture private conversations. In one indescribable sequence, John and Paul are seated at the cafeteria table discussing how to get George, who had recently quit, back into the band. The resulting never-before-heard audio is like the Rosetta Stone of the interpersonal dynamics that contributed to the dissolution of the band. If you have even a passing interest, do not miss the first half-hour of Part 2.

The First Reality Program? Do you like TV shows where a group of people are put into an enclosed, unfamiliar space and given nearly impossible tasks to accomplish in a ridiculously compressed time frame? What if those people were members of the most influential rock band ever?

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. Photo courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.
Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. Photo courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.

Come for the Rooftop, Maybe Stay for the Rest? NPR's David Bianculli has suggested that the best way for casual fans to approach this series is to start at the end — watch the amazing rooftop concert that was The Beatles final live performance as a band first, then decide if you want to work your way back through the remaining 6.5 hours. This seems like solid advice since Jackson gives a more complete picture of the performance than existed in the original film. But you will miss all the wonderfully bizarre, tense, comical, inspiring and infuriating scenes described above. It's indeed a Long and Winding Road to start at the beginning, but well worth your Ticket to Ride.