' ' Cinema Romantico: Get Back

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Get Back

In January 1969 John, Paul, George, and Ringo (i.e. The Beatles) gathered to write an album they would then perform and record at month’s end. That both did and did not work out as they planned, memorialized in Michael Lindsay Hogg’s 1970 documentary “Let It Be” which patched together images recorded during these sessions and cemented them in lore as what capsized The Beatle boat, painting the four lads from Liverpool as at odds and each already with one foot out the door. In a way, that’s still true in “Get Back”, director Peter Jackson’s reassembly and reimagining of the same footage. But in choosing the title of a different song from those sessions, Jackson is sort of fashioning an answer to “Let It Be”, that as bad it was it wasn’t quite that bad, all while simultaneously rendering an extraordinary and extraordinarily intimate look at the recording process and bringing The Beatles, if only for a fleeting few hours, back to life.

If nothing else, and it is a whole lot more, “Get Back” is a triumph of editing and visuals. Jackson and his team combed through 60 hours of footage and 150 hours of audio, synching up footage that had no audio with audio from other scenes, a process the finished product proves as seamless as the colorization process Jackson borrowed from his own 2018 movie “They Shall Not Grow Old.” The color in “Get Back”, it’s not just how much it makes the incredible of-the-era costuming of George and Ringo and even producer Glyn Johns, who might prove the most dapper in show, pop, but how it transforms “Get Back” into a waking dream. When John, gone these 40-plus years, first walked into the room, I gasped. It puts you there, which is to say “Get Back” is not so much a fly on the wall documentary as an in the chair documentary, like you’re pulling a seat right up alongside Yoko doing her correspondence and taking the ride, furthered in Jackson eliding any present-day talking heads for a zoomed-out view. Other than some title cards when necessary to provide pertinent facts, “Get Back” is in the moment.

That moment is fraught. If the goal is for The Beatles to write an album’s worth of songs in just a few weeks, the recurring graphic of an X going through the latest day on a calendar becomes a constant reminder of just how little songwriting and rehearsing The Beatles do. Much of the movie is just The Beatles jamming to old favorites, scenes illustrating the tonal duality of the entire appreciation. It’s fun to see them in bar band mode, just as it’s fun to see John and Paul, antagonists of the fuzzy imagination, cracking each other up as they literally sing at one another through clenched teeth. But it also speaks to the inherent tension, a delaying tactic as much as joyful release, and when they’re horsing around while concocting “Let It Be”, a cut to Glyn Johns is comically illuminating. You can see the expression on his face subliminally trying to communicate one desperate plea: for the love of God, don’t screw this up.

In these moments of John and Paul buddying up, meanwhile, George tends to conspicuously vanish from the frame. And when he does appear, his face is often adorned with uncomfortable laughter, the kind you get when you’re laughing at a joke you’re not in on. This underlines his status as the band’s overlooked middle child and paints his mid-session decision to quit the band not as some dramatic dust-up – indeed, in “Get Back’s” telling, one day he’s there and the next he’s not – but mere familial neglect. And that, “Get Back” intrinsically argues, is what broke The Beatles up as much as anything, the unavoidable rust of time and togetherness. (Depending on your point-of-view, Ringo, who hardly says a word, is either checked out or just riding the wave.) There’s a comically astute moment when Paul jokes that in 50 years people will blame Yoko for the band’s break-up, even though her constant presence here is entirely benign, but there’s another moment when Paul is sitting and staring and sort of talking through the possibility of a break-up with what maybe my mind imagined as a glimmer of a tear in his eye. He very much cuts the figure of a man who sees the figurative writing on the wall.

For all that drama, though, “Get Back” really hits its groove, paradoxically, when nothing much is happening. That’s the secret weapon. Divided into three parts that run over seven hours total, it might sound like “Get Back” is too long. And it might feel like “Get Back” is too long, loaded with ostensibly extraneous parts. How many times can we see Ringo idling on his drum throne, how many cups of tea can we see consumed, how many slices of toast and marmalade can we see eaten? It’s repetitive but it’s repetition with a purpose, not condensing studio time down to just the thrill of Paul conjuring “Get Back” out of thin air. No, that moment, in its way, is the series’ linchpin, showing Paul just strumming his guitar, strumming and strumming, looking for all the world like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” trying to ignite that spark. And then, suddenly, “Get Back” is there, as if appearing out of a thick fog.

That sensation is analogous to the famed rooftop concert atop their Apple Corps headquarters. After being crammed inside the recording space where you can practically smell the Beatles’ unkempt hair and body odor of Paul wearing that same damn orange sweater again, being up there on the roof becomes a breath of fresh air, for them and for us. The concert is intercut with footage from a hidden camera in the Apple Corps reception area as a pair of apple-faced cops turn up, soberly responding to noise complaints but told to wait, looking like such total squares, man. At the same time, a man on the street interviews various unassuming passerby transformed into spectators, some aware of who they are watching, some not, as well as a few grouches lamenting the sonic clamor who seem cut straight from a Monty Python sketch. It adds extra atmosphere to the sudden show on the top of the world, where when the cops finally breach the roof, you see George Harrison really swing his axe while he’s looking right at them, crystallizing rock ‘n’ roll as rebellion. And that’s when it hit me. Up there, away from everyone, playing essentially for just themselves and their closest family and friends, The Beatles, the most famous band in the world, were, for just a moment, four lads from Liverpool playing The Cavern Club all over again.

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