Peter Jackson spent four years editing down 60 hours of unseen footage into the new three-part documentary series. Was it worth the wait?
‘Some will say it’s too long, but I could have done with eight more hours’
As a younger Beatles fan who grew up with the idea that the band were falling apart in January 1969, Get Back was a joy. My immediate thought was how bright and vibrant everything looked, compared with the graininess of the original Let It Be film. It could have been shot yesterday – apart from the outfits and hairstyles. While not exactly a big revelation for those of us who never believed that Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, it’s great to see that her presence here didn’t upset Paul, George and Ringo nearly as much as it seemed to upset commentators. We see absolutely no evidence of her “interfering”, as has been claimed over the years, and I loved McCartney’s prescient remark that in 50 years’ time people would be saying the Beatles broke up “because Yoko sat on an amp”.
The documentary is like being in the room with them. Seeing the creative spark between all four, and the incredible way the whole mood lifts when Billy Preston joins the sessions, was special. And seeing the rooftop concert in its full 42-minute glory was wonderful.
I found myself noticing little moments I hadn’t before, such as John and Paul grinning at one another for a few seconds, completely overtaken by the joy of making music. Some will say it’s too long, but I could have done with eight more hours. I came away feeling quite emotional, but glad that new generations of fans will watch Get Back and see that, despite everything, they really did love each other.
Sarah Stacey, 29, freelance radio and podcast producer, Ireland
‘Christ alive, it’s long’
My dad made me watch it with him. It’s good, I suppose, and he’s having the absolute time of his life – I can’t go 20 minutes without him saying how amazing it is to see them make all this music. But Christ alive, it’s long. I’ve lost so many hours of my life to watching these four men and some random other people talking over the top of some lightly strummed guitar. We’re finally on the rooftop concert, and honestly I’m so glad the end is in sight. Why was one part of the series almost three hours long? I really relate to Yoko Ono whenever she screams into the microphone.
Amy, 24, illustrator, Kent
‘It made me pick up the guitar again’
As a rusty guitarist, the best compliment I could give the documentary was that it made me pick up the instrument again for the first time in months. It is quite incredible how music made more than half a century ago can still inspire in that way. Like many, I have always considered myself to be pretty well-versed on the Beatles’ music. Having read and watched so much about the band before Get Back, I felt as though there wasn’t much left to discover. I was proved wrong.
As a huge fan of John and George, I have always rather reluctantly acknowledged Paul’s genius, but it is on full display here. I left with much more respect for his role in the band than I had before. A control freak he apparently was – but it does make you wonder whether these last albums would have been made if it wasn’t for his determination. The section where he wells up at the prospect of the band breaking up, and the subsequent hidden-mic-in-the-flower-pot conversation with John on how they’re going to get George back, was almost uncomfortable in that you felt you had no right to be listening in. Also, Paul had great jumpers.
James, 35, working in communications, Walthamstow, London
‘A slow burn’
Get Back is a slow burn and somewhat meandering, but to see the four of them in their prime, at their creative best, is a privilege. Watching Paul come up with the first few riffs of Get Back and then to see it morph into the song we know and love 50 years later was a joy. The “pay off” rooftop concert at number three, Savile Row (two doors down from my old office) was amazing to see in its entirety – from the musicianship, the joy the band had when they simply played together, to the vox pops with the people on the street below. It was a window into a different time and a London that is unrecognisable now.
Ashish Burman, 46, investment banker, London
‘The little things in this footage shine through’
I had to keep reminding myself that this was filmed when I was 10 years old because I’m so used to grainy films and photographs of the 60s. I remember watching the rooftop footage on TV with my dad. He had been a Beatles fan and used to buy sheet music to play on his guitar. Sadly, by 1969, my 35-year-old dad thought they’d gone too far with their long hair and hippy lifestyles. This documentary was a reminder of their genius playing and writing, but also the corny 60s humour. In contrast, some of the lyrics were shocking – such as wishing a girlfriend dead rather than she go out with another man. The little things in this footage shine through, like Harrison asking Billy about piano chords, McCartney experimenting with different surnames in the song Get Back, and all the smoking.
Belinda Forbes, 63, funeral celebrant, Bracknell Forest
‘There are priceless moments for an old fan like me’
Born in 1946, I was fortunate to see the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool quite often around 1961 before they made their Parlophone recordings. I was in a group at the time, playing chart covers and instrumentals by the Shadows. When I first saw the Beatles, one wet Wednesday lunchtime, my musical world changed forever.
I’ve just finished watching episode three and I see all that was good or great about the Beatles: the music, the personalities, the fact John Lennon could be one of the funniest people you could ever see on stage – so different to how he is often portrayed by the media and by actors. The sense of fun and camaraderie is still there within the group, who had all taken on different personalities due to marriage, commitments, ego, over the previous 10 years. Yet there are priceless moments for an old fan like me when those years just disappear, leaving four young lads desperate to “to make it in the rock’n’roll world”.
Dennis Conroy, 75, Liverpool
‘It has made me see the Beatles in a new light’
It has given me a greater respect for Paul McCartney in particular. Over the later years of his career, I feel that perhaps he has developed a kind of lame reputation. I’d been under the impression that Lennon was the talent and Paul largely benefited from John’s incredible abilities. This is not how Get Back depicts things at all. Here, Paul is the driving force. It has made me see the Beatles in a new light. Now, if Peter Jackson could find some footage and do the same for Led Zeppelin, I’ll be really happy.
Alan, 47, HR manager, Manchester confirmed
‘It’s just four young men being silly’
There were moments when I felt fatigued watching it, but this beautiful film allowed me to be the fly on the wall I’d always wished to be. Although the band are well aware they’re being filmed, there are times when it seems they forget about the cameras. You really gain a feel for their process, in which there is apparently no methodology. It’s just four young men being silly – and from that they found the unexpected, the wondrous and the magnificent.
I often read the description of the Beatles as being “two and a half geniuses and Ringo Starr”. I disagree. They are four ordinary men from working-class Liverpool propelled to fame, with a unique musical connection. The highlights for me are those moments between Paul and John, where they look into each other’s eyes and seem to know instinctively where the other will place their next chord, and where they’ll take their hodgepodge jam next. The beautifully restored footage makes this documentary one of the best pieces of television I’ve seen this year.
Jackson, 24, PR consultant, Glossop
‘Very much a documentary for the fans’
It’s very much a documentary for the fans. I’m not sure there is anything particularly revelatory in it; anyone who watched the Anthology documentaries from the 90s or has read any of the gazillion books and biographies will be well aware of the how the Let It Be sessions unfolded. However, it was still fascinating viewing. Seeing how those guys put together an album under such (self-inflicted) pressure – in full HD and surround sound – was a joy.
Highlights included Paul coming up with Get Back while George and Ringo look completely uninterested, even yawning; John pining for Clapton when George leaves the band; and Ringo and George working on Octopus’s Garden around the piano with such enthusiasm. Then there’s the Paul/John relationship, which just oozed brotherly love despite some friction at times.
Robin Smith, 38, construction worker, Edinburgh