We’re not done with the Beatles just yet, is the main takeaway from Peter Jackson’s new docu-series Get Back, an eight-hour monolithic tribute to our enduring fascination with the most famous musical act of the 20th century. The re-discovery and restoration of all this footage, tracking the band as they planned out what would be their final live performance in January 1969, is indeed a real find. But do we need it, and if so, why?
While Get Back spends perhaps too much time with the Beatles noodling around, that’s also the point. Broken into three parts (with the second coming in at just under three hours), we’re invited to watch the creative process of the band in all its glory, finding tedium and inspiration in equal measure. In a month they convene, work out songs, up and downscale various ambitions, and eventually find a sense of equilibrium in their music—and, somewhat surprisingly, with each other. The process and outcome of Jackson’s film are less dramatic than one would think—even with one brief defection and near-constant time pressure—but ultimately it’s hard for the Beatles to be boring. And what the film excels at is capturing just how John, Paul, George, and Ringo (plus Billy Preston, George Martin, and others) could come together in such a way so as to produce magic. Jackson’s treatment of the film—using techniques he previously applied to even more dire footage from World War I—does at times create something of an unreal sheen. In effect, however, it also enforces the almost supernatural brightness of these men at work.
At its best, Get Back really soars in those moments when we watch the excavation of a cultural monument seemingly in real-time—the crew talking while Paul plays “Let It Be” for the first time or the jam session that coheres into the title track. The film’s been smoothed over, worn down in time so to speak, but there’s still something singular here. We may forget about it all one day. But not yet.