The first part of Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” airs on Disney Plus Thanksgiving Day. It’s two hours and thirty seven minutes. I just finished it and I am reeling. It’s like going back and watching Shakespeare write “Hamlet” and “Macbeth.”
This takes place in 1969. The Beatles are disenchanted after “The White Album” and “Hey Jude.” They’ve also made “Sgt Pepper” and “Revolver” and “Rubber Soul” and all the early stuff like Help!, Hard Day’s Night and Yesterday.
Like what now? Don’t forget, when this is over they record their masterpiece, “Abbey Road,” and release it before any of this stuff. (Yes, when they made “Abbey Road,” the “Let it Be” songs were sitting in a vault.)
They decide to perform live on TV for the first time in three years. It will be a documentary shot by Michael Lindsay Hogg, who is the son of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald and, allegedly, Orson Welles. He’s taken his stepfather’s surname. But if you look at him, he looks just like Welles and has grandiose plans for this film.
The Beatles meet at Twickenham Studios to write 14 songs in 14 days. Seriously. The songs include Let it Be, Get Back, The Long and Winding Road, two pieces by George– I Me Mine and For You Blue. There are also I’ve Got a Feeling and Two of Us. John, who is attached to Yoko with Velcro and seems checked out emotionally, brings back “Across the Universe,” which he wrote and recorded the year before.
At the start of Part 1, Paul and George have a famous tiff. Paul is already a superstar writer. George is just coming into his own. They don’t know it yet, but in two years he will release his triple album of hits including “My Sweet Lord” followed by “The Concert for Bangla Desh,” and take his place as a superstar. But now, his frustrations are simmering, and about to boil over. George also introduces “All Things Must Pass,” which will a become a masterpiece. He’s on the verge of something thrilling. (And when you see them hiss at each other, remember– it was Paul who sat at George’s beside as he died 30 years later.)
If you’re a Beatles fan, you can’t miss this film. Really, it is mind blowing. For a while Yoko Ono seems very annoying. She sticks herself in with the band while they’re writing. Or John is using her as a security pet. She reads a newspaper while the band composes “Don’t Let Me Down.” You want to scream. But later when Paul is writing “Let it Be” in real time, Yoko and Linda Eastman sit and animatedly gossip, Yoko smiles and laughs in ways you’ve never seen before. She and Linda are yak yak yak. What are they talking about? Well, they each grew up in Scarsdale, New York. This may be when they figured it out. It’s like finding the Holy Grail. We always assumed they were enemies. Not after seeing this.
We watch famous songs being written out of thin air. Long and Winding Road, Another Day, She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. Paul says of that one, This really happened. (Did a girl really sneak through his window?) We learn that “Get Back” had all different lyrics, it was supposed to be against the anti-immigration movement sweeping the UK courtesy of evil Enoch Powell. What? Sweet Loretta Martin came later.
Lindsay Hogg suggests that this live show– which will end up being the famous rooftop concert– should be for a charity. Now, this is really funny. George poo-poos that. He says, “Charity begins at home.” Two years later George will lead the enormous fundraiser for Bangla Desh, start his Living in the Material World Foundation, and become heavily associated with charity. His life completely changed. Crazy.
There’s a lot of tension in Part 1. But then there’s John and Yoko waltzing around while “I Me Mine” is being written. And then Ringo says to someone, as Paul plays what the future “Let it Be” on the piano, “I could watch that all day” or something to that effect. He has a beatific look on his face. It’s a startling moment of sweetness.
There’s so much more, and I still have five hours to watch, I think. So after all, this is not just “Let it Be.” This is an extraordinary, unprecedented look into this, the most important popular music group of our lives. And I do think Lindsay-Hogg thought he was making his “Citizen McCartney,” which I’ll talk about later. But if you listen carefully to what’s being said, there are revelations upon revelations.
Really, Part 1 comes Thursday night. Don’t eat too much. You want to stay alert for “Get Back.”