There will be many who watch Peter Jackson’s The Beatles Get Back, currently rolling out over three consecutive days on Disney+, who will say six hours is not enough.
Having watched the second two-hour installment, as John Lennon says on “Revolution,” count me “in — out.”
It begins with such drama. George Harrison has walked out after one too many discordant notes from Paul McCartney. It is Day Eight of 20 or so days of intense work on a new album/live show/documentary and it is simply all too much for the Fabbed-out musicians.
Part 2 picks up with Ringo the only one who shows up on time at Twickenham Studios to continue rehearsals. McCartney, with soon-to-be wife Linda Eastman, follows. George Harrison has just quit The Beatles. John Lennon is late. There is unease as they plunk down into wooden chairs and try to figure out what to do next.
John (and Yoko) show up at noon and then comes the best part of this series so far. Lennon and McCartney head to a private room to talk, away from the cameras. What they don’t know is that original “Let It Be” documentary director Michael Lindsay-Hogg has planted a hidden mic in a floral display on their table.
Jackson had 57 hours of film footage plus a further 150 hours of audio tapes to craft “Get Back.” He gives us an empty room and some flowers to look at as we eavesdrop on music’s two biggest stars. The dialogue between John and Paul is direct and frank, and in case you miss any of it, Jackson spells it all out in captions right on the screen.
Lennon, who said nothing as McCartney told Harrison to stop playing “corny” in Part 1, finally gets blunt. They’ve both been cutting down Harrison, he says, and leaving him “no bandages.” Paul’s heavy-handedness is a drag and none of the rest of them would ever tell him how to arrange one of his songs.
It’s too bad there wasn’t 60 hours of The Beatles making Rubber Soul or Revolver or Sgt. Pepper to compare how it was before. In the 20 years since Harrison’s death, McCartney has credited the guitarist with enhancing “All My Loving” by instinctively crafting the four-note signature sound between the lyrics. On Let It Be, he’s no longer inspiring Harrison, but telling him how to do it.
McCartney protests that Lennon was their leader but Paul had to become the new boss. Lennon admits to abusing his body (the suggestion is with drugs), and his preoccupation with Yoko has left him less interested in The Beatles. There is genuine doubt that the four of them can complete anything in the same room anymore, and the best they might do is for George and John to mail their parts in from their home studios.
The drama is all there; Jackson just puts it in a sneaky new frame. Harrison, we learn, has fled to Liverpool. In a few days, however, he returns. There is another meeting at Ringo’s house. It goes well. In a few more days, there is a welcome change of scenery as the gaffers (including Mal Evans) pack up Twickenham.
A basement space at The Beatles’ Savile Row business offices is transformed into a new studio and all four re-assemble and get back to rehearsing. The planned live TV special is ditched. An eventual concert is still a goal without a destination.
Trouble is, they return to play “I Dig a Pony.” There aren’t many Beatles songs I dislike, but that is one. I don’t care to listen to it finished, but after five or seven rehearsals, please dig and bury the damn pony already.
Fortunately, 22-year-old keyboard wonder Billy Preston, who just happened to be in London, is invited by Lennon to sit in on a song. He instantly elevates the music and the mood. The sense of joy that flickers across the faces of John and Paul is genuine. “You’re in the band,” Lennon says after the song, and indeed Preston gos on to enhance several songs on Let It Be, specially on “Get Back” where he received credit right on the label.
There are other surprises in Part 2. Peter Sellars drops by at Twickenham in preparation for his upcoming film shoot with Ringo on “The Magic Christian.” Lennon tries to lure him into some improv but Sellars takes one look at all the documentary cameras and flees the scene faster than Harrison did.
Part 3 premieres Saturday on Disney+ as The Beatles perform their final live concert on the roof of their Savile Row offices. What’s been promised is more of the concert than has ever been shared before. Hopefully, this time Preston will actually sneak into a few scenes on-camera with the band.