By the end of watching 468 minutes of John, Paul, George and Ringo goof off, snipe at each other, create and perform beautiful music, I felt wrung out and also like I had created my own masterpiece. The idea of creation, and of art in particular, has always fascinated us. How does creation happen? What converts a lump of clay into art, a bunch of notes into melody, a group of alphabets into a poem or colours into a painting?
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That alchemy that converts dross to gold has absorbed thinkers and artists alike. It has given rise to the concept of a capricious muse who could visit and leave one at any time. Peter Jackson, whose The Lord of the Rings turns 20 today (December 10) slips in this exhilarating moment amid the squabbling and singing between the Fab Four.
The lovingly-restored documentary looks at The Beatles’ 21 days in the studio in January 1969, as they put together songs for their new album, Let it Be . Just watching Macca pull out ‘Get Back’ out of thin air is worth the eight-hour slog, and also McCartney’s headmaster-like domination of the group.
Would it not be fun to see how Led Zeppelin came up with ‘Immigrant Song’ and also set the record straight about the matter of the pretty young woman and the shark? Or how Bob Dylan came up with ‘Desolation Row’? Or how Pancham told Gulzar he could not set his lyrics — which sounded like a newspaper headline — to music and went ahead and did precisely that?
The documentary also sets the record straight proving The Beatles did not split up because “Yoko Ono sat on an amp.” There were wives, girlfriends, sundry Hare Krishna devotees, actor Peter Sellers, and even six-year-old Heather McCartney wandering in and out of rehearsals.
And far from being fractious, the rehearsals show The Beatles joking (It is not a yew tree, it is a me tree), chatting about fellow musicians (Eric Clapton comes in for genuine praise), scatting, fooling around on the piano and dancing. And my goodness, how much everybody smokes! Just watching everyone light up is enough to scratch one’s throat raw. Endless cups of tea and cigarettes apparently make the Liverpool Lads tick.
While looking at the genius of creation, Get Back is a document on the hard work and the nitty-gritty that goes into the making of a blockbuster. Watching McCartney agonise over whether it should be Loretta Mary or Martin or where Jojo is from, is to realise one does not pluck a Billboard No 1 from the air; not even The Beatles could do that.
Get Back also reveals how young the four were. While Lennon says, “I am not 18 anymore,” the fact of the matter is they were in their late 20s, and had been at the epicentre of a hurricane called Beatlemania for long enough to tire of it. The split could have happened as a natural result of the boys evolving and wanting different things from life.
The loss of manager Brian Epstein is clearly felt as McCartney admits in Get Back to needing a father figure to tell the group to leave the ladies behind. Harrison’s diary entry of leaving The Beatles while telling, could also be just a desire to move on, and assert his identity. Maybe the Beatles splitting up had such an impact on pop culture, because it was the crumbling of an edifice on which so many had placed all their dreams and aspirations in an otherwise gloomy time.
The clothes are the acme of the swinging 60s from the shaggy coats and lime green trousers to purple shirts and polka dots. While Ringo has always been the goofy Beatle, Lennon with his shy, sly smile, was a revelation... or maybe it was the heroin talking.
Jackson’s “documentary about a documentary”, which reminds one of Joseph Heller’s Picture This about a painting of Rembrandt looking at Aristotle gazing upon a bust of Homer, has immense historical value, and is fun to watch if you have time and patience at your disposal. The 42-minute rooftop concert is the pot of gold waiting at the end of that rainbow.
The Beatles: Get Back is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar