Peter Jackson takes us inside ‘The Beatles: Get Back’

A portrait of Peter Jackson.

Peter Jackson reviewed 130 hours of audio and 57 hours of hidden video to create The Beatles: Get Back.

(Fairfax Media/Getty Images)

Peter Jackson is quick to tell you he doesn’t have a favorite Beatle. Though he’s the soul of chatty cordiality in a call from his New Zealand headquarters, you can sense he finds Teen magazine’s question tainted with a touch of inappropriateness: “I’ve always loved the Beatles as a group. You take away any member and it’s not the Beatles anymore. I have to say I love the Beatles because I love the music; I love the songs.”

There is no doubt that Jackson, after his intense review of 130 hours of audio and 57 hours of long-hidden video of the band at their career turning point in January 1969, has no non-Beatle who knows the group so well. If he has one modest boast it’s his: “I don’t have any criticism of the Beatles in my DNA,” but he’s no mere fanboy. His three-part, six-hour plus documentary series The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+ is as candid and all-encompassing as he could get.

He’s also proud to take us with him when the Fab Four stereotypes are turned on their head. So John Lennon, the supposedly bitter genius, turns out to be the most dizzying of the four, as does the gentle George Harrison whisperer; Paul McCartney the cutie is not only preternaturally talented but also the driving force; Harrison the Mystic is actually the most practical; and Ringo Starr isn’t just the shaggy trot, he’s a master at finding a drum pulse for each new songwriting foray.

That these perspectives are available to all of us is thanks in large part to the brain trust of the Beatles-founded Apple Corps, which chose Jackson to lead the project. It’s not just his place at the forefront of the art form – thanks to the incorporation of his storied technological expertise into the epochal Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Equally important in his filmography is his carefully restored, deeply human 2019 WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. (He sees the abrupt and almost meaningless end of WWI reflected in Ukraine today: “What’s the point of the whole? When that moment comes in Ukraine, what has been achieved?”)

The Beatles rehearse in front of a wall dotted with colors of lights.

From left: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in The Beatles: Get Back.

(Linda McCartney)

Jackson, the Beatles man who fails to die, will still marvel that he missed the group’s early influence. Born in 1961 when the likeliest LP to be heard in his parents’ tranquil New Zealand home might be the soundtrack ‘South Pacific’, in 1973 he scraped together the money to release the career-spanning ‘Red’ (1962-66) and ‘Blue’ of the Beatles (1967-70) collections and never looked back – until, of course, the monumental commission he embarked on with “Get Back” in January 2019.

When Apple released it among their archive and treasures since director Michael Lindsay-Hogg made the somber 1970 documentary Let It Be, he found the 16mm footage was “grainy and desaturated,” and the audio often sombre, with a series of intimate Beatles debates obscured by the players’ deliberately loud strumming, by the film crew in mono tape recorders. Lindsay-Hogg had been banned from inserting the now legendary moment of George Harrison’s oddly casual “I’m leaving the band now” and the footage was shelved, largely unseen by the public.

“When I first started working with Apple on this project,” Jackson recalls, “it was the next film after that [2016’s Ron Howard doc of 1963-66 ‘touring years’] ‘Eight days a week.’ We were aiming for a runtime of two to 2 1/2 hours.” But by early 2020, even as Jackson was pushing for a full cut, “I knew it was going to be painful – ‘boy, the amount of great stuff, that people won’t see – and for that they’re going back to the archives 50 years to go?’ Then the pandemic happened.”

Locked in a “lockdown bubble” in New Zealand with his longtime editor Jabez Olssen, Jackson told Apple rather bravely: “We just don’t think 2 1/2 hours is a good idea – look at this [longer cut] and see what you think. And they said, ‘Yes, we agree.’” (DVD out July 12.)

The 16mm footage has been rendered vibrant in color and sharpness thanks to Jackson’s tech team. More importantly, with just eight months left until the Thanksgiving 2021 release date, the original sound was boosted for an upcoming remix, the final blow that would make the final product revealing – the application of a sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithm using machine learning , dubbed Mal, after Mal Evans, the Beatles’ ever-helpful road manager, who features in the Get Back Sessions footage. Mal was able to isolate audio, separating chatter from strumming guitars, mumbling from humming amps and, for example, McCartney’s lead vocal as isolated from octave-spanning harmonies by Lennon and Harrison. (During encores on his recent concert tour, McCartney poignantly shares a video from the Let It Be rooftop concert, in which Lennon joins in on “I’ve Got a Feeling” to create a duet of sorts.)

The Beatles perform with a small group of spectators on a rooftop.

The Beatles make their final public appearance.

(Getty Images / Walt Disney Studios)

After beginning the project by interviewing participants such as engineer and producer Glyn Johns, Jackson not only adopted Johns’ wisdom that the real magic of The Beatles wasn’t in the guitars etc., but in the harmonies. Also in contrast to “All these books that have come out and paint this picture of the sessions as somber and depressing,” Johns described the actual joy that came with it. In fact, Johns told Jackson he laughed all day: “It was full collaboration from all four guys, regardless of who wrote the song.”

While the release of the docu-series generated an ever-growing buzz, Jackson wasn’t shy about touting the idea for more: “My real dream would be to do an extended version. That’s just me talking because Apple isn’t really interested in it. I think they are wrong.”

Some viewers found Lindsay-Hogg’s talk of filming a live Beatles show in Libya dull. But not only is Jackson grateful to have his fellow director as a character, he also celebrates his predecessor’s earnest questioning, clever evasive maneuvers (putting up secret mics, covert filming) and dogged attention: “I love Michael. I admire his attempts to herd the cats. In the film it’s a storyline – there’s a lot of storylines, the songwriting, George going, all of that, but the storyline of Michael trying to make this film is the one that I really relate to.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-06-17/peter-jackson-goes-inside-making-beatles-get-back Peter Jackson takes us inside ‘The Beatles: Get Back’

Sarah Ridley

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