As I write this, Part 1 of The Beatles: Get Back is streaming on Disney+. And, don’t worry, I fully intend to review it for the site; I’d just prefer to get access to the whole series before I do so. Fortunately, the whole thing’s going to be up on Saturday, though, given that it appears the runtime is longer than advertised (and even the advertised length was six bloody hours long), it might take some time, and I hope it’ll be of a manageable length. So, here’s some quotes from director Peter Jackson about the project.
As I mentioned before, the documentary is a long one, weighing in at a whopping 468 minutes. That’s 7 hours, 48 minutes for those of us who didn’t do the math in our heads. And that’s roughly six times the length of the original film, and, while I don’t have a copy of the two-hour reel of outtakes from the movie that’s been circulating among collectors for decades, I think it’s safe to say it’s easily more than twice as long as them both combined. You’re probably wondering how much of the sessions the movie’s going to contain. Well, according to Peter Jackson, it’s going to have most everything of consequence.
I’d like to say that I didn’t really leave out anything that I thought was important, which is why the duration has crept up to what it is today. I felt acutely – and this is the Beatles fan part of me kicking in – anything I don’t include in this movie might go back in the vault for another 50 years. I was seeing and hearing these amazing moments. I thought: ‘God, people have got to see this. This is great. They have to see this.’ One of the legendary Beatles things is the full length ‘Dig It’. On the ‘Let It Be’ album there’s only 40, 50 seconds of ‘Dig It’, which was like an improvised song that they do. The Beatles fans all know that the original has been on bootleg as well. We trimmed it to get it down to four minutes or something because the original is 12 or 13 minutes long… So you get a lot more than you do on the ‘Let It Be’ album.
I wonder if this includes this incident where Peter Sellers visits the Fab Four (he’s making The Magic Christian with Ringo around this time).
It would be around the time covered by Part 1, but I haven’t gotten confirmation that we see this incident in quality that’s actually watchable.
One incident that’s confirmed to be part of the film is a part completely omitted in the original Let it Be film: George quitting the band for about five days. He quit around January 10, wrote the song “Wah Wah,” and eventually returned on the condition that they went back to Savile Row and not do a proper concert at the end of the project. While the interview I read on NME.com didn’t explain why he left, Peter Jackson did explain some crucial context about how the film was made.
They have this wonderful running battle with Michael Lindsay-Hogg. This is one of the things we need to thank Michael for today. He is determined to try to capture as much candid material as he can. Michael’s aware that when he’s pointing these cameras at The Beatles they kind of know they’re being filmed. So he’s determined to try to film them and record them as much as he can without them noticing. I’ve been talking to him about it – he would get the cameraman to set up the tripod, press the button and then walk away as if he was off to have a cup of tea. And the camera would have a 10-minute roll of film in it, and it would just be quietly [recording]. They’d also have a red light when the power’s on, so he used to put some tape over the red light. The Beatles see this camera and think: ‘Well, it’s just there for when it’s gonna be used in the day, but we’re not being filmed at the moment.’ Well they were being filmed.
And then, he explained how he managed to get the argument that caused George to quit in such high quality.
What [the band] used to do is, if they were in a conversation, they would turn their amps up loud and they’d strum the guitar. They’d just be strumming, not playing anything, no tune, just [noise]. So all Michael’s microphones were recording was this loud guitar. And you’d see The Beatles talking, having some private chat. But what we’ve been able to do with computer and artificial-intelligence-based technology is strip the guitars off, and expose [what’s underneath]. Some key parts of our movie feature private conversations that they tried to disguise or tried to cover up at the time that he was recording them. It’s a little bit naughty, but we have access to all these personal conversations.
Of course, because a lot of the original filming happened incognito, this had an impact on the original documentary, with Michael Lindsay-Hogg trying to keep everyone happy, and ending up with a product that, evidently, the band was ashamed enough of that they kept it in the vault for close to 40 years. But now, 50 years after it happened, Peter Jackson says:
I think history has overtaken their concern about their image – the normal pop star ego sort of thing. That’s so far in the past now, do they need to be concerned about the image of The Beatles? No, they don’t. It’s minted in history and culture. I think they feel that they can now afford to let the world see a little bit more truthfulness than what they’ve ever seen before. They’re nervous, but okay about it. There’s a degree of courage on their part. They’re pulling the curtain away and you’re seeing what’s behind the curtain for the first time ever. Now they haven’t got [the film] Let It Be at 80 minutes long, they’ve got a supercharged version of it with a lot more controversial stuff in there. We show you George leaving.
But just because there’s more controversial stuff, doesn’t mean they skimp on the happier parts of the session, where we actually see some legit cameraderie among the Fab Four.
When I looked at it all the first time, I came away thinking: ‘Well actually they’re pretty decent normal guys. They’re all different, but then any four people are different. There was this commercialisation of The Beatles in the ’60s: the four mop tops. One’s the witty one, one’s the charming one, one’s the quiet one – they had their little labels. But they were kind of a unit. And here we see that they’re not a unit. They’re just four guys, four separate human beings. They have their own opinions. They deal with things in a different way. The film is so extensive that it gives you a pretty good sense of who they are. If anything, I came away thinking: ‘Well they’re actually pretty decent sensible guys. There’s no ego. There’s no prima donna. They have disagreements. They have different ambitions. But they’re just four decent Liverpool lads.’ I respected them more.
And not only that, we even get to hear them play some songs together that didn’t end up on the album, including some stuff that would be on Abbey Road and even some songs the individual Beatles would end up perfecting in their solo careers:
There are rock ‘n’ roll songs, they do 12 of the Abbey Road tracks… plus there’s probably eight or 10 of their solo album tracks [in there]. You see The Beatles doing ‘Gimme Some Truth’ [in] a very rough rehearsing kind of way. Plus ‘All Things Must Pass’, which was obviously George’s big solo release – and ‘Another Day’, which was Paul McCartney‘s first single when he went solo. And there’s multiple singles.
Indeed, even the teasers hint at unreleased music; I can recall seeing a teaser on TV the other day and hearing a version of “Get Back” that didn’t seem familiar to me. It could be another take, it could be a remix, but all I know is that we can hear some stuff we haven’t heard before. Maybe the more obsessive fans with the 38-disc bootlegs of every note recorded in the sessions might have heard it before, but the rabble will certainly find something new. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a Thanksgiving Dinner That Can’t Be Beat And Not Get Up Until The Next Morning.