Peter Jackson cleverly focuses his documentary on the original film’s lack of direction to comic effect. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg keeps trying to steer the Beatles toward a bizarre concert in a Roman amphitheater in Sabratha, Libya, proceeded by a trip with fans aboard the QE2, which the down-to-earth lads from Liverpool sensibly reject. John Lennon proposes the idea of a studio stage designed with large clear plastic boxes, pictured six months later on the picture sleeve for the Plastic Ono Band’s single “Give Peace a Chance.” To me, the Beatles’ indecision, half-cocked ideas, and mismanagement clearly illustrate their desperate need for a new manager to succeed Brian Epstein in the wake of his death sixteen months earlier.
In Get Back, Jackson also shows the Beatles’ self-awareness of their need for a new manager. “Ever since Mr. Epstein died,” says George Harrison, “things haven’t been the same.” Paul agrees. “It’s discipline we lack,” he says. “We’ve never had discipline. We had a sort of slight, symbolic discipline. Like Mr. Epstein. You know, he sort of said, ‘Get suits on,’ and we did, you know. And so we were always fighting that discipline a bit. There really is no one there now to say, ‘Do it.’ . . . Daddy’s gone away now, and we’re on our own at the holiday camp.”
I was also awed to hear the Beatles refer to Brian Epstein, who died at age 32, as “Mr. Epstein,” which, to me, shows how highly they held him in esteem.
The original Let It Be movie shows snippets of conversations taken out of context to illustrate the impending dissolution of the Beatles — most notably, the infamous fight in which George tells Paul, “I’ll play anything you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play. Now, whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” In Get Back, Jackson shows the full context of that conversation, revealing that Paul and George were simply expressing differences in artistic temperament common in any collaborative effort. In the Let It Be movie, the very few conversations featured are abridged, and reviewers, convinced the film documents the disintegration of the Beatles, have spent decades overanalyzing crumbs under a microscope.
Conversely, in Get Back, Peter Jackson shares some enlightening, heartwarming, and funny moments. My favorites:
• In Let It Be, the Beatles road manager Mal Evans, who once worked as a bouncer at the Cavern, bangs the anvil while the Beatles play “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” but the footage is dark and gloomy. In Get Back, we can clearly see Mal bang the anvil with childish wonder and glee, grateful to be a part of the Beatles inner circle. Throughout Get Back, Mal also serves as the Beatles’ secretary of sorts, jotting down lyrics as Paul and John compose songs on the spot, often suggesting lyrics himself. I love seeing his enthusiasm.
• John and Paul sing “Gimme Some Truth,” and I was amazed to discover Paul proposing lyrics to a song that ultimately appeared on John’s Imagine album.
• George explains how he got the inspiration for the tune for “I Me Mine” from a waltz performed by an Austrian brass band on a BBC television program.
• Paul plays the guitar and drums during a jam session with a caterwauling Yoko Ono, clearly demonstrating his receptiveness to her avant-garde howls.
• Paul defends John’s desire to be with Yoko all the time. “See, but their point is that they’re trying to like be as near together as they can,” Paul says. “They wanna stay together, those two. So, it’s all right. Let the young lovers stay together. But it’s not that bad, you know. We got a lot out of the Beatles so that if — I think John’s thing now — if it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it’s Yoko. . . . She really is all right. They just want to be near each other. So, I just think it’s just silly of me or anyone to try and say to them, ‘No, you can’t.’ It’s like that we’re striking ’cause work conditions aren’t right. But it shouldn’t be. It’s like they’re going overboard about it. But John always does, you know . . . But it’s gonna be such an incredible sort of comical thing, like in fifty years’ time, ‘They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.’ It’s not as though there’s any sort of earth-splitting rows or anything.”