What else is left to say or write about The Beatles? Peter Jackson's newly released and highly praised documentary The Beatles: Get Back shows that, half a century after their break up, the Fab Four still have a hold on our culture and command our attention.
Beyond indulgent retromania, The Beatles are heroic figures. Musical innovators, cultural icons, even messianic avatars, their mythology lends itself to repeated appreciation and interpretation, forever gaining in power, mystery and enchantment.
Beatlemania is best understood as a religious phenomenon, more than a musical one. Through their unique alchemy of artistic gifts and existential tensions, cosmic sensitivity, humor, and a flair for the surreal, these four showmen-shamans cast a bewitching multimedia magic spell that saturated the global mediascape of the 60s and still reverberate today in the collective imagination. Astonishingly, given their stellar and prolific career, no one in the band was yet 30 years old when they broke up in 1970.
The Beatles: Get Back
Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back is an epic 8-hour 3-part film that gives us a "fly on the wall" view of some of their last days in the studio during the making of what became their final release Let It Be, and culminating with their iconic live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Studios in London, on January 30th, 1969.
Jackson's documentary is a remarkable achievement in many ways. It offers an extraordinary portal to witness The Beatles creating in real time. Starting off with some hazy riffs and half-baked lyrics they relentlessly hammer the tunes into shape, chord by chord and word by word, until songs of beauty and sophistication emerge.
A crucial ingredient of their process was fooling around and slack time: being silly and goofy and chatty and messy, rambling and monkeying about, having a jolly good time. This seemingly "unproductive" time—perhaps accounting for two-thirds of the 8-hour running time—is actually what provides context and space for the truly sublime moments to happen.
The Beatles: Get Back is also a poignant portrayal of interpersonal tensions and the interplay of individual personalities. It is a diary of the bittersweet last days of a band exhausted under the weight of global stardom and moving quite consciously towards a painful but inevitable separation.
All in all, The Beatles: Get Back is a moving, exhilarating, and intense cinematic experience, a glowing new chapter added to Beatles lore. It reveals John, Paul, George, and Ringo—as well as the great keyboardist Billy Preston, who brought fresh energy to the sessions—magically working together, conjuring up a parting spell which still blazes today with creative flow and joyful play.