Wednesday, December 08, 2021


THE BEATLES: GET BACK is a fascinating, engrossing six-hour documentary on the Beatles preparing for their final live concert and TV special in 1969.   It’s six hours culled down from like 150 hours of footage that was shot.  LORD OF THE RINGS director, Peter Jackson (who must be used to sitting through 150 hours of film) did a masterful job of sifting through a mountain of sand to find the gold.  

I will say this, I wonder if younger generations will find this documentary as compelling as us OK Boomers.  If you’re interested in the creative process, yes — if you’re interested in the personal dynamics of four strong personalities trying to collaborate under time pressure — yes, but if you wonder who these old geezers are, then no.  

The Beatles were such a part of my life growing up.  They changed and shaped popular culture. And yet, what’s so interesting is to watch them as just four individuals — creating, goofing off together, arguing, and exhibiting talents you might not have known they had.  

Did you know that Ringo plays piano?  So did John.  George played drums.  I knew that Paul could play all instruments including the Latin zither, but didn’t know about the others.  Considering how sophisticated their music became it shouldn’t come as any big shock, but when in public has Ringo ever played piano?  

The highlights were watching brilliant songs being written in real time — chords changing and lyrics thought up on the spot. Paul was particularly impressive.   My other favorite part was hearing them just jam now and again, playing snippets of oldies, rocking out on guitars — showing a side we’ve never publicly seen.  

The lowlight was whenever there was a jam session where Yoko sang.  Ohmygod!  Imagine a cat being strangled while its tail was set on fire.  Yoko Ono is bar none the worst singer on the planet.   John was okay with this?  As Larry Gelbart once said, “Love isn’t just blind, it’s also deaf.”  

The documentary is six-hours.  There are moments that are not PC.  You really have to pay attention because they talk quickly and often subtitles are also provided.  So it’s an intense watch.  I can’t imagine seeing the whole thing in one or two sittings.  Hour chunks seemed to work well for me.

THE BEATLES: GET BACK is on Disney +.  After you watch FROZEN for the 50th time and put your kid to bed, check it out. 


Kyle Arnett said...

This documentary also showed how important Billy Preston was to the band. If he just hadn't randomly showed up in the studio and then stuck around, "Let It Be" and "Abbey Road" would have been totally different, assuming we would have got them at all. The energy in the studio jumped 1000% after he came aboard.

VincentS said...

Diddo, diddo, diddo on Yoko Ono's singing! When John Lennon was killed I bought DOUBLE FANTASY and heard her singing for the first time. That and the fact that Strawberry Fields in Central Park was dedicated on my birthday made for a very depressing one. John Lennon said that since George came into the band through Paul and Ringo through George the only two people he ever discovered were Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono (I guess he forgot about Pete Best but, then, but who hasn't?) and that that was a pretty good track record. No wonder Paul didn't speak to John for years.

slgc said...

This was actually supposed to be a mere six hours, but when Peter Jackson learned that he was making this for Disney + he added material and it's something like 7.8 hours in total. So it's not only intense, but it's a real time commitment.

My favorite moment, by far, is when Linda's 6-year-old daughter Heather went to the microphone and started screeching. Less annoying and way more adorable than Yoko :)

Don Kemp said...

If you've ever seen Ringo live, if Don't Pass Me By is on the set list, he plays piano on the first part of the song before the drums kick in. Also, there's various You Tube videos of him describing how he wrote the song on piano and I believe Octopuses' Garden.

ventucky said...

I am a bit disappointed in your slam on Yoko. Sure she is an acquired taste at the very least, but it is rather cliche and low hanging fruit bash to go straight to her as the negative. I have heard some pretty cool stuff from her in some of John's songs. It is rather well know that she is a MAJOR inspiration for the B-52's, who are very well regarded in critical circles. I expected more from someone with an entertainment background as varied as yours.

Mark said...

Related to Ringo's piano skills: in his solo song, "Beatles 1970," he says he can play piano but only in the key of C.

Markus said...

What do you mean "old geezers" ... they were barely pushing 30 in 1969.

I haven't seen this yet (certainly will at some point), but I expect it to be similarly good as other Beatle-centric docus of the last 10 or so years ("Living in the material world" and "Eight days a week" come to mind). As someone born after they even broke up I will say this though, I find the recent -well- surge of Beatles rediscovery very entertaining. Also with regard to books and the more modern re-issues of their music. I know "remastering" is all the rage nowadays (making you buy your favorite albums a fourth or fifth time...) and sometimes the result is not worth mentioning, but the new "Super Deluxe" issues of those Beatles albums spearheaded by Giles Martin are fricking fantastic, they sound like they were recorded last week and are highly recommended even for non-audiophile listeners. (And sure to cringe those oldethyme purists who prefer the scratchy vinyl mono albums played on a 60 year old grammophone while everything else is heresy, OK Boomer amiright... nah just kidding, I always err on the side of nostalgia myself as well...) All this new stuff puts things properly in perspective too - they were not "great" musicians, they were good instrumentalists, at times very good writers/composers and in their era together made their "more than the sum of their parts" stars align to unwittingly revolutionise pop, culture, and pop culture. And as such are every bit deserving the places in history that they already occupy.

Mike Barer said...

I remember seeing Ringo play piano on his own song "Octopuss's Garden" in the film "Let It Be". John chimes in on drums.
I'm looking forward to watching this as I am a huge Beatle fan.

Daniel said...

I got an hour into it before giving up. I'm a Gen-Xer and a casual Beatles fan (their songs are pleasant enough to listen to, but I've never owned one of their albums and don't go out of my way to listen to them), and as much as I love deep dives into observing and studying the creative process, I personally don't think their songs are interesting enough to warrant so much screen time (if it had been eight hours of watching Sondheim collaborate and compose, I would have been all-in). I think you have to be die hard fan to sit through the entire thing. I'm glad that you and others liked it. Just not my thing.

Roger Owen Green said...

Ringo played Hammond organ on I'm Looking Through You according to the liner notes.

I haven't signed up for Apple+ yet, but this has put me on the precipice...

Tom said...

Replace Yoko during that jam session with Robert Plant and no one would have batted an eye. She was a well-respected experimental artist and it's easy to see how someone like John at that point in his life would have been drawn to her.

Lemuel said...

Haven'seen it yet but I remember one reviewer who complained there was too much aimless conversation. So what? says I. When we get to eavesdrop on the gods of Olympus shooting the breeze, we listen.

kent said...

I didn't know Ringo played keyboards but John's white piano was no secret. It became his trademark after the Beatles, being featured on such songs as Imagine.

Gary said...

Yoko Ono was known as a conceptual artist. John Lennon once said that the first syllable of that was "con."

Greg Ehrbar said...

If you get Disney+ to watch The Beatles, then watch the Disney classics. According to USA Today, they are what statistically most people are watching. If you haven't seen them or have not seen them lately.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella (1950)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Peter Pan
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Old Yeller
Sleeping Beauty
The Parent Trap
101 Dalmatians (1961)
Mary Poppins
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Aladdin (1992)
Mulan (1998)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

There are many others that I feel are outstanding but are not as universally considered overall masterpieces overall. There are also some that are just fun but certainly not in the same league, but even Walt Disney was responsible for "The Monkey's Uncle," which featured the historic partnering of Annette and the Beach Boys. Speaking of pop bands.

By Ken Levine said...

Feel free to disagree with me, but I absolutely stand by everything I said about Yoko. And I was being kind.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

I'm slobbering over wanting to see this documentary. It sounds like it does justice to the Beatles' later days that the original Let It Be release did not (I haven't seen the entire thing, but it seems overly gloomy).

I've never doubted that the individual members of the group basically got along the entire time they were together, just that they they needed to move on at that point.

Mitch said...

I wonder what is in store 5 years from now? Every five years something new comes out for the Beatles.
Since this is the holiday season, and you discussed Yoko, here is her way of celebrating cheer:

I think this will make Ken's point.
I hope to watch this over the holidays. Really looking forward to it.

Pete Grossman said...

Part of the wonderful, winking banter:

George: Some other people’s songs are much better than ours.
John: That’s why I don’t learn them.

Then of course we hear them jamming the aforementioned tunes.

Gene Pinder said...

I've only seen the first part so far, but what struck me was Paul's creative process to come up with the title song - "Get Back." He started with nothing but a repeat of a couple of cords and then began to craft the song seemingly out of thin air. I always gave John more credit than Paul as far as songwriting was concerned, but now I'm completely rethinking that notion. They were both creative geniuses who paired together just at the right time and place to create iconic songs. Kudos to Jackson and the documentary team.

WendyT said...

I've watched and enjoyed "The Beatles: Get Back" twice now. Obviously I am a big fan and there are absolutely fascinating insights on many, many things in this film. But I don't know why this review has to be couched in terms of generations, of how this is probably an "Ok Boomer" film and perhaps not for Gen-X, Millennials or whatever. There are people of all ages who will find this movie fascinating and others who will not be interested. Not everyone has to have experienced a music group, time period, historical event, etc. to be able to appreciate it. Did you notice the range of ages and viewpoints on the Beatles in January 1969 in the London street interviews in the film during the rooftop concert?

As for Yoko. The footage of her vocalizing is such a small part of the film, that it really doesn't bear mentioning. But for some, reviewing anything about the Beatles during this time period, a "requirement" is to offer some Yoko bashing. This happened with the original "Let it Be" film when she was labeled as the person who broke up the Beatles. This falsehood, fortunately, has finally been put to rest many times since. Bottom line, this film shows John and Yoko were madly in love. He finally got the deep relationship he was searching for. And others have pointed out that the couple's inseparability during this time was partly due to a difficult miscarriage they suffered two months before, which put Yoko in the hospital. Context is everything.

maxdebryn said...

I'm a born in 1960 "boomer," and I have always loved The Beatles. My parents were British, so I was *exposed* to the Fabs very early, because my Nana in England would send us the records, and other Beatles' memorabilia on a regular basis when Beatlemania broke out over 'ome. I found the documentary a wee bit wearying, and took breaks after an hour or so of each chapter. I loved seeing the guys create the music,their sense(s) of humour, and their joy when Billy Preston turns up to join them was/is palpable.It was also fascinating to see how they depended on dear Mal Evans, whose own life story should be made into a film.

D. McEwan said...

Audiences so loved Yoko that whenever she appears, they chant her name.

As she enters, they chant, "Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!"

I'm Outraged! said...

Yoko comes across as a nice, quiet and sweet woman of no particular talent, sitting there minding her own business, and when she does screech Paul is having a great time drumming along, he had no problem with her, the developing heroin habits of George and John were the true dark shadow in this.

The Time Machine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Time Machine said...

It was an incredible film experience. I've now watched it three times to absorb something that I may have missed during the first two emotional viewings. One correction, the film isn't six hours long, but closer to eight hours in length at an astounding 468 minutes (7.8 hours). I really could have watched another eight hours. Not to worry though, I have seen several articles also state that it's six hours, so you weren't the only one who made that mistake. It never felt anywhere near the length that it was. When the film was originally planned for theatrical release, it was shorter, but airing on Disney Plus resulting in it being much longer and we're all the better for it. Since seeing it in the theater back in the sixties, I rewatched "Cleopatra" recently on Turner Classic Movies and at three hours and twelve minutes, it felt longer than "Get Back" by a longshot. :-)

maxdebryn said...

@Ken - I always wonder when I see "comment removed by the author," and why some comments are deleted ? Foul language ? Offensive content ? Bad grammar ? Incendiary rhetoric ? Colour me curious.

Ere I Saw Elba said...

I've got these three things to say regarding Yoko Ono:

1) She was not responsible for breaking up the Beatles. By 1969 they were on their own trajectory regardless of anyone else

2) I still don't like her. But I acknowledge that she was and still is a target of misogynist and racist attacks, and no one should dislike her for those reasons

3) She really has no artistic talent.

Brandon in Virginia said...

I will say this, I wonder if younger generations will find this documentary as compelling as us OK Boomers. If you’re interested in the creative process, yes — if you’re interested in the personal dynamics of four strong personalities trying to collaborate under time pressure — yes, but if you wonder who these old geezers are, then no.

You might be surprised. I have a couple friends who are 90s babies and love the Beatles. I'm sure they'll check it out at some point. Honestly, I'd watch it myself.

Philly Cinephile said...

Ken, I have a Friday question about billing, although I think you've discussed this before. Each December, I watch a favorite made-for-TV movie called HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. It features several well-known actors and this is how they are listed in the opening credits. Each name and descriptor is shown by itself, centered on the screen.

Starring Sally Field
Jill Haworth
Guest Star Julie Harris
Special Guest Star Eleanor Parker
Special Appearance by Jessica Walter
And Walter Brennan as "Benjamin Morgan"
Co-starring John Fink
Featuring Med Flory

Do these various descriptors have specific, set meanings? What distinguishes a "Special Guest Star" from an ordinary "Guest Star"? Does listing the name of an actor's character carry a certain cachet? And why does poor Jill Haworth have no descriptor?

I'm imagining lengthy contract negotiations over billing...

austinspace said...

The thing that should be pointed out is how AMAZING the doc looks. It truly looks like it could have been filmed a few days ago--except perhaps for George's fashion choices. But seriously it suddenly felt like the Beatles were still a living, organic entity and watching them at their prime brought all sorts of tears to this old guy (who got "Hey Jude" for his 10th birthday).

While Yoko's screeching is well-documented and the butt of 50 years of jokes, she has written some decent songs. Check out Elvis Costello's version of "Walking on Thin Ice" to see what a competent artist can do with her work.

My favorite part easily was Paul's spontaneous creation of "Get Back". Literal chills went down my spine as the thing came out of nowhere. Second would have to be the rooftop concert in its entirety. Remember the "Let it Be" film only showed fragments and the whole thing was shrouded in some sort of murk to exemplify the director's thesis. To go from that to this spectacular doc is like going from a black and white Magnavox set to 4K HD Color. Can't wait to watch it again!

Bert Epstein said...

Was fascinating to see how the original lyrics to the song Get Back are appropriate to the political themes today.

Dixon Steele said...

Vincent: (I guess he forgot about Pete Best but, then, but who hasn't?).

Obviously you. People still ragging on Pete Best after all these years. Jesus....

And so far as Yoko having "no talent", John admitted that she co-wrote IMAGINE, even if she doesn't get the credit.

So there's that.

estiv said...

Ringo played Hammond organ on I'm Looking Through You according to the liner notes.

But listen carefully. His part consists of one chord, repeated several times near the end of the song, played essentially as a percussion part. The liner notes also credit Mal Evans with playing organ on You Won't See Me. If you listen you can tell that he's holding one note down with his finger, and that's it. But hey, he got a credit on a Beatles record.

Dave Dahl said...

John hurt his finger playing the piano, leading to creating the song "Bad Finger Boogie," which lent its name to the labelmate / would-be successor band, Badfinger.

Stuart said...

Loved this doc. Have watched it twice now, and the rooftop concert three times. Just amazing.

I think you're making an issue out of Yoko where one doesn't exist. Yes, she screeches & howls, for maybe, what... twice in the entire 8 hours? For a total of 5 seconds. Get over it, other than her constant presence next to John, she's a non-entity in this movie.

Justin Russo said...

Ken: did you watch the Tina Turner documentary? Not only is she one of the most compelling, influential, and talented musicians, but the film actually does her justice.

Would love to know your thoughts! (And I am a 35 year-old).

MeanMrMustard67 said...

Agree with her shrill singing , but she weirdly comes out of the doc as a winner. We’d always been led to believe that she was there constantly sticking her nose where it oughtn’t be and seemed to just be there because John at that point wouldn’t do a thing without her by his side. Some of the best parts is when the lads are in the midst of jamming and it cuts to her just sitting in a corner doing a crossword puzzle or something, almost like she’s not awestruck to be around the lads

mike said...

In Tony Bramwell's book he writes that if only someone had come clean with John that Ms. Ono had no musical talent whatsoever, there might have been rather less friction, caused in part by Lennon's insistence on having her tag along in the studio, previously visitors were much frowned upon. I've read in several places that Ms. Ono was pushy and difficult although none of that seems to be in the doc, (hopefully it isn't true) while Ms. Eastman was quiet and polite on the occasions she appeared. (McCartney must have thought, 'good for the goose, good for the gander.') I understand that some in avant-garde circles give Ms. Ono some credit as an artist but musically she's nowheresville. Haven't seen it though, looking forward to enjoying it if it ever comes out on DVD or a theater or something that doesn't involve me paying Disney anything.

MikeKPa. said...

As Larry Gelbart once said, “Love isn’t just blind, it’s also deaf.”
What a classic line.