In January 2003, after bootleggers released a comprehensive 38-part CD series of the stolen Nagra tape recordings, police in Amsterdam raided a warehouse and recovered 504 reels of the original Nagra tapes (each sixteen minutes in length) and arrested three culprits; London police arrested another two accomplices. (Those recovered tapes — previously available underground to hard-core fanatics — would become essential material for Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary.)
In November 2003, the Beatles released the album Let It Be. . . Naked (a stripped down version of the Let It Be album) which includes an additional disk called “Fly on the Wall,” featuring a 24-minute collage of conversations from the Nagra tapes and a variety of songs (“Because I Know You Love Me So,” “Child of Nature,” “Taking a Trip to Carolina,” “All Things Must Pass,” and “Fancy My Chances with You”). The accompanying booklet provides transcripts of some of the Beatles’ more noteworthy conversations recorded during the Get Back sessions.
Although Apple Corps pulled the Let It Be movie from circulation, my literary agent’s husband gave me a bootlegged DVD of the movie in 2014 — in exchange for an original cartoon of “Trots and Bonnie” by my friend Shary Flenniken, which she drew specifically to help me get a copy of Let It Be — thanks again, Shary! I’ve watched Let It Be several times since then (and again the other night with my wife Debbie), and I stick by my original assessment. Aside from the rooftop concert, the film is dreck.
Despite having heard many recordings from the Get Back sessions, I’ve remained overeager to see the actual film footage, and I’m happy to say the forty-year wait was well worth it — thanks to Peter Jackson’s superb production and attention to detail.
First, Peter Jackson and his team did a remarkable job cleaning up the film footage and the sound recordings. In the original films and tapes, the Beatles talk over each other and attempt to hide some of their conversations by playing their instruments. Technological advances enabled Jackson and his team to separate out musical instruments and voices, homing in on individual comments. Rather than using camera angles seen in Let It Be, Jackson strove to use previously unseen film footage of those same scenes.
Jackson also wisely used captions to identify all the participants in the film (rather than assuming the viewer knows everyone in the Beatles entourage), and he added subtitles whenever anyone speaks softly, quickly, or in thick Liverpudlian. I also love his use of visual inserts to help explain some of the Beatles more obscure references.
By starting the documentary with a ten-minute history of the Beatles, Jackson puts the Let It Be sessions into context for anyone unfamiliar or not well versed with the Beatles’ chronology. Jackson also does a wonderful job playing up the original project’s lack of decisive direction. Ironically, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg can’t seem to figure out or get the Beatles to commit to a cogent plotline throughout the Get Back sessions, and he fails to realize he could use that quandary as the plot of the original Let It Be movie.
Some viewers might get tired of seeing the Beatles hash out new songs that evolve through multiple rehearsals, but I find it enthralling to watch the chemistry between the foursome, hear the lyrics change and develop, and eavesdrop on their comical banter — infused with rapid-fire inside jokes. I play a little piano (it’s three inches tall), but I am no musician, so I can’t fully comprehend the intricacies of the four Beatles’ unique musical shorthand. I imagine any of my musician friends will find the Beatles’ interchanges both fascinating and inspiring.
For me, Get Back shows us that the cute Beatle is actually the bossy Beatle, the quiet Beatle is actually the disgruntled Beatle, the funny Beatle is actually the melancholy Beatle, and the witty Beatle is actually the weird Beatle and desperately needs to shampoo his hair.
While Paul comes across as a brilliant songwriter and the engine of the group, he also appears to be a muddled film producer. Having conceived the idea for the Get Back project, he seems sadly alone in his passion for it. He experiences difficulty mustering the other Beatles’ enthusiasm because the Twickenham Studios location sucks and he cannot articulate his vision for the project’s ultimate direction. He feels the film should end with something climatic, but he can’t figure out what that something should be. Nor can he get his band mates to understand the importance of a movie climax. Sixteen months earlier, Paul concocted the idea for the Beatles’ first major flop — the 1967 Magical Mystery Tour made-for-TV movie, which similarly lacked a coherent plot. Paul’s outline for that improvised bomb was simply a circle drawn on a sheet of paper and divided into eight segments, like pizza slices. In 1984, Paul once again proved his poor screenwriting ability with his disastrous solo movie endeavor Give My Regards to Broad Street.