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‘They weren’t breaking up’: Here’s why Peter Jackson’s ‘Get Back’ defies Beatles history

  • November 23, 2021

The Beatles: Get Back” (streaming Thursday, Friday and Saturday on Disney+), which revises the narrative around “Let It Be,” a gloomy behind-the-scenes film about the album of the same name that arrived in theaters after the band revealed its split. 

“It’s forever tainted by the fact The Beatles were breaking up when it came out,” Jackson says of the original 1970 movie. Fans who’ve seen the fly-on-the-wall footage of the band writing and recording live takes of 14 songs in 22 days – which includes a painful exchange in which Paul McCartney and George Harrison bicker about Harrison’s guitar playing – “naturally assume” they’re viewing the band’s demise. “ ‘Let It Be’ had the aura of this sort of miserable time.”

But what “Get Back” teases is a deeper dive into long-vaulted outtakes shot in January 1969, in which the four friends gamely make the best of bad acoustics, growing divisions and a tight timeline.

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In segments screened for USA TODAY, John Lennon and Harrison snicker like schoolboys when engineers pause the recording to announce McCartney’s bass is out of tune. Lennon cracks a lewd joke about “I’ve Got a Feeling” as The Beatles fumble and bumble through unfamiliar material, and no one can remember the title of “The Long and Winding Road.” Ringo Starr chummily shares a piece of gum with Yoko Ono, who does needlework at John’s side. Arms are thrown around shoulders and lunch plans are made. The beloved rooftop concert at their Apple Corps. headquarters plays out in full, running 42 minutes. The grainy look of the first movie has disappeared, replaced by crisp footage with lifelike clarity.

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What struck Giles Martin, who remixed the music heard in the film and on a new deluxe edition of the album, was the effort The Beatles still devoted to developing each other’s ideas.

When Lennon shows McCartney something he’s written, “it’s like, ‘Should we work on this song?’ ” says Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin. “It’s not like, ‘This is my song. What are you doing with it?’ You don’t get that, ever.”

Jackson has his theories about why The Beatles’ memories of the project are faulty.

“They weren’t breaking up when it was shot,” he reminds. The band went on to write and record one final classic album, “Abbey Road.” “But they do remember seeing ‘Let It Be’ when they were breaking up, at a very stressful time of their lives. So their memories of the ‘Get Back’ sessions are their memories of the movie rather than what happened (when they were filming).” 

Starr, 81, remembers the tensions – the new film shows Harrison briefly quitting the band – but is pleased with the balanced retelling. “We had lots of those moments, but we had a lot of loving too,” he told USA TODAY in March. “There’s laughter and there’s joy, and (footage) of the band being the band: digging each other, fooling around. That’s how the sessions were. So I love Peter and I love what he’s doing. Everyone will be amazed.”

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What’s less clear is whether the Beatles faithful will accept this celebratory version of the truth.

“A lot of fans are probably expecting it to be something of a whitewash,” Jackson acknowledges. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last Christmas, Disney and Jackson released a perky preview reel. “It was just us thinking, ‘God, we should cheer people up,’ so we cut together a deliberately funny two- or three-minute reel, which everybody has taken to mean, ‘Well, this is going to be a happy whitewash of the whole thing.’ “

Hours of audio Jackson pored through reveal a different perspective.

“You’re eavesdropping on them talking all day long, day after day,” Jackson says. “You get a pretty strong sense of what’s actually accurate and what’s not. They’re not a band that intends to break up. If it’s supposed to be a film of a band breaking up, it ain’t that for sure.”

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