First Week of Advent
Second Week of Advent

Get Back (Peter Jackson's Beatles Documentary)

If I didn't have, um, access to someone's Disney+ account, I wouldn't have paid much attention to this. Who needs another Beatles documentary? But I do have access, so I have watched part of it...and now I think, more or less, who needs another Beatles documentary? Or book, or re-master re-issue re-organization of their recordings, or collection of outtakes and scraps? 

If that sounds like I'm not really that much of a Beatles fan, I'd have to say "you're right." I admitted as much to a couple of people who said they had been glued to their TVs for the entire six (!) hours of the thing. Not me. I was bored after 45 minutes or so and stopped. then a day or two later went back and watched another hour. That still didn't finish the first of the three two-hour episodes. I will most likely eventually watch the rest, because it's somewhat interesting, and after all it is the Beatles. But it's not at the top of my to-do list.

When I say "not much of a fan," I mean "fan" in the sense of "fanatic." I do like the Beatles, and I do think their work is is one of the greatest achievements in popular music. But I don't revere them. Even back when they were an active band putting out new records, and I was young, I didn't hang on their every word or take them as gurus. If anyone had that kind of effect on me then, it was Dylan. And I had gotten over that by the mid-1970s. 

The movie does have a nice humanizing and demythologizing effect. If you've ever been in a band, or just in a group of people casually trying to play together, that first 45 minutes is pretty much the same thing: a bunch of guys sitting around playing bits and pieces of stuff, getting irritated, getting bored, trying to be funny, and so forth. It's just not very interesting to watch, even when I remind myself that they are going to end up with at least a few brilliant songs.

I guess I should back up a bit: this is basically a revisiting, at great length, of the Beatles' Let It Be documentary, released in 1970, covering the sessions that led to the recording of the album of the same name and to a rooftop concert. I saw it when it was originally released, and did not realize that it has mostly been unobtainable since then. It was, to me at least, not exactly an enchanting film. The group was falling apart--I think they had already broken up when the film was released--and the album was a mixed bag at best. Apparently a whole body of belief about the last days of the band grew up around that documentary: it was Yoko's fault, it was McCartney's fault, and so forth. The new one claims to provide a fuller and more accurate picture. Here's the trailer:

I will leave it to those who are more interested and knowledgeable to pick over what this film does or doesn't tell us about the breakup, the personalities, the relationships, the relative importance of musical contributions, and so forth. For what it's worth, my long-standing belief that McCartney was by far the most musically gifted of the group is confirmed. He also seems to be, at this point, the only one of the four who really wants to work, and to keep the band going. Watching him work out the title song is striking: he does it with just his bass, and if I'm not mistaken he's using the bass as a 4-string guitar--which of course it is, but typically it's only played one note at a time. McCartney seems to be strumming chords on it. I'm not a musician but I think that's pretty unusual. And of course he does it with perfect ease.

It also brings out something which I guess has been pretty obvious for a long time: by this point in their career, the songwriting had really declined. Both McCartney and Lennon sometimes seemed not to want to spend much time with lyrics. "Get Back" is great musically, and it has a great chorus, but the verses are throwaway. I'd say something similar about several of the other songs on Let It Be. "You can syndicate any boat you row". Whatever.

But if you are a real Beatles fan, you'll want to see it.


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Even though I haven't, and don't intend to view the program, I pretty much agree with everything you say in this post about the Beatles. Paul, yes. Lyrics, meh. Breakup, who cares? That's their business.

You might enjoy this: Basically a Beatles Album

I view this program the way I view all those Christopher Tolkien books about the history of the development of The Lord of the Rings. I'd rather just read the book. I don't care if Galadriel was like this in 1925 and like that in 1938 and like that in 1962. What I care about is what Galadriel was like in The Lord of the Rings.

I rather just listen to the better of the Beatles albums, which doesn't include Let it Be, or the better of their songs, which does include "Let It Be."

Billy Preston is cool.

"I pretty much agree with everything you say in this post about the Beatles."

Except the part about Dylan. :)

I don't do Dylan trivia and ephemera, either. Though there are some real gems in some of his stuff that was uncollected until the so-called "bootleg" official releases--songs that were never released and are absolutely top-notch work. I don't know if there's any of that in the Beatles archives.

Paul could certainly write great lyrics when he had a mind to. "Let It Be" and "Long and Winding Road" are among the best Beatles songs considered as songs in themselves (as opposed to song-performance packages). The most fully-realized songs on that album, I'd say.

I've seen several rave reviews, but the headline on this mostly negative one is hilarious. It's contained in the URL:

Interesting the crossover here with Peter Jackson - LOTR and Beatles.

The entire thing remains a great mystery to me, and I say that pretty much liking all of their music. The early stuff is quite dated now, but so much of it seems timeless - Sgt Peppers, White Album, etc.

I recently traveled on several airplanes and spent much time walking in and out of "bookstores" at big airports; I continue to be amazed that Beatles stuff is just really OUT there for public consumption. This is a band that was together maybe 15 years and broke up over 50 years ago!!

So yes, it's all "fanboy" (or, girl) stuff. Not too long ago I watched the newest Dylan doc on Netflix about the Rolling Thunder Review, directed by Martin Scorsese. I would say I am supremely more interested in Dylan than the Beatles and it took me about four sittings to get through. If it was just a concert it would be more intriguing, but all of the other stuff is sort of a drag.

McCartney vs Lennon - I did watch a doc a while back I think called "Imagine" (like the title of Mac's favorite song) that a Beatles fanboy loaned to me. It made me sad watching, and seems to have certainly been Lennon's relationship to Ono that made him exit the band. The sad part was his death at 40, not the band breaking up. Meanwhile, McCartney still somehow tours and puts on amazing shows - some recent ones are on YouTube.

I guess I'm all about the music. Dylan for one would appreciate that. ;-) So as Robert said, just read The Lord of the Rings!

I watched that Rolling Thunder doc, too, and had not gotten all that far into it before I started thinking "why am I watching this?" I didn't have a good answer. I did finish it but certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone except the most zealous Dylan zealots.

One of those long documentaries which I really liked a lot in part is the Grateful Dead one, Long Strange Trip. I think Scorsese also had a hand in it. I thought the first half or so of it was really fascinating, as much for its portrayal of the mid-'60s San Francisco scene as for anything else.

Were the Beatles even in existence for 15 years? I think it was a little less than that. And the period when they produced the work that they're remembered for was really only about 5, maybe 6 or 7. Astonishing. And as you say astonishing that there's still so much interest in them.

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