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The Beatles: Get Back: Film Review

The Beatles: Get Back offers nine hours of previously unseen footage following the iconic band as they rush to write their final live show.

On 30th January 1969, the Beatles famously gave their final live performance on the rooftop of their recording studio on London’s Savile Row. But what isn’t so well-known (at least, until now) is the struggle, heartbreak and reformation that the legendary band went through in the weeks leading up to this iconic performance. With The Beatles: Get Back, director Peter Jackson has crafted an entirely captivating and touching summation of these weeks, pulling together over 150 hours of recovered audio and visual footage to accurately and fittingly place us directly inside that rehearsal room with them. As the Beatles themselves note several times throughout the project, it’s a completely open and honest documentary that aims to tell their story as it was, without any sort of studio or marketing interference – resulting in a stunning piece of media that offers a truly intimate and grounded look at these surprisingly human superstars. 

It’s January 1969. The Beatles, following a series of personal struggles and group disagreements, haven’t performed a live show in almost three years. With their sights set on returning for one final set, they find themselves with less than three weeks to write, rehearse, record and prepare eleven new songs. The documentary takes us through every step of their process, from its conception to its execution, ending with a beautifully shot full-length recording of their famous rooftop concert. We’re granted access to the most personal and unspoken moments of what was an incredibly tense and stressful period for the Beatles, following every step with a level of unrestrained entry that’s just as exciting as it is at times surprising. It’s important to note that a lot of this footage was previously featured in the 1970 documentary Let it Be, but many of the ‘tougher’ events that took place in that short period – including George Harrison’s brief resignation from the band – were not included in that cut. The Beatles: Get Back doesn’t shy away from the truth, often revelling in its uninhibited presentation of the many tensions and disagreements that characterised that period of the band’s history, and would eventually lead to its dissolution. 

It’s this exact willingness to present the raw truth that makes the documentary so compelling to watch. Even for those who aren’t huge fans of the band, or even those who aren’t familiar with any of the music, it’s hard not to lose yourself in the pure sense of talent that seems to follow these four musicians wherever they go. The documentary features a particular extended sequence in which Paul McCartney conceives the basis for the now-iconic titular song ‘Get Back’ seemingly out of nothingness, and it’s moments like these that make you really lose yourself in the spectacle of it all. It’s not that anybody has ever doubted the level of skill and talent that went into this process, but seeing it play out in front of your eyes just adds another level of awe to the whole ordeal. The documentary also incorporates the music into its narrative in a fresh and interesting way, always maintaining a level of energy and liveliness that runs throughout the whole thing and keeps it interesting. 

loud and clear reviews the beatles get back documentary
Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in THE BEATLES: GET BACK. (Linda McCartney. © 2020 Apple Corps Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

What’s perhaps most striking about this documentary is how much it leans into the idea of the Beatles not as musical geniuses or celebrity superstars, but as human beings. Even the most mundane of conversations between these individuals (particularly Lennon and McCartney) are brought to life by their innate understanding of each other and the respect that they all hold for everyone else in the band. There may be arguments and misunderstandings, but the documentary never sensationalises this or presents it as anything other than the product of genuine human flaws. It’s grounded in reality rather than stardom, and that’s what sets it apart from many other projects that have attempted to capture the Beatles in this light. 

The star of the show here, and the moment that everything has been building towards, is the famous Savile Row rooftop concert – and it’s absolutely electric. Despite having happened over fifty years ago now, the whole thing looks as though it could have taken place yesterday. The newly developed footage looks stunning, and it brings these individuals to life in a way that previous footage just hasn’t captured as effectively. The focus is clearly on the Beatles here, and it acts as a fitting conclusion to all pressure, strain and effort that characterised the buildup to this moment. All the previous tensions melt away, and we’re invited to join the Beatles in this musical celebration for the entire 42-minute uninterrupted sequence, which acts as a perfect tribute to the band and their legacy. 

The Beatles: Get Back is not only one of the best documentaries of the year so far, but also one of the most entertaining and eye-opening viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time. It’s so much more than just the rehearsal and performance footage it may seem to be – it’s a carefully constructed look at the Beatles through their own eyes, told as they wanted their story to be told. It displays their talent and ability in its rawest and most authentic form – just four friends in a room, playing and singing until something sticks. Of course, not all of it does stick, but it’s incredible to witness the conception of that which does. 

The Beatles: Get Back is now available to watch on Disney+.

The Beatles: Get Back: Trailer (Disney Plus)
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