Get Back

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I’m not going to be shy, coy or restrained, because there’s no reason to be: Peter Jackson’s Get Back is monumental, the Mona Lisa of rock documentaries, a staggering, towering technical and artistic achievement. Over eight hours and three episodes, drawing from sixty hours of footage and a hundred and twenty of audio, Jackson recreates the Beatles’ creation of Let It Be (and parts of Abbey Road) and in doing so, gives us not only the most intimate, revealing, comprehensive look at the Beatles ever, but one of the most incisive portraits of musical creation as well.

It’s all summed up in a jaw-dropping, spellbinding, you-wouldn’t-believe-it-if-you-weren’t-seeing-it moment when we watch, in real time, with no cuts, as Paul McCartney comes up with the main structure of the song Get Back. As he’s doing so, Ringo and George (John isn’t there yet) pick up on the vibe, then pick up their instruments. It’s not merely goosebump-inducing; your hair may stand on end, and you could very likely cry with the sheer magic of the moment.

Get Back is full of such incidents; we see and hear individual songs from their moment of birth and follow them as they’re refined and ultimately recorded. We see George play I Me Mine to the others for the very first time. We see John coming up with the ‘Everybody had a hard year’ riff for I’ve Got A Feeling – as it happens. Indeed, the greatest magic of all, among eight hours of pure magic, comes whenever Paul and John get into a groove with each other and create the songs we know and love.

But outside of the music, we see and hear the most private conversations (one of them recorded secretly, between John and Paul, by a microphone hidden in a vase of flowers) and get to know these guys as individuals like never before. It’s uncanny. The sound and vision has been elaborately restored: everything is audible, everything is vivid. You simply cannot believe (a) that all this material exists and (b) that we’ve never seen it before.

I don’t know how non-Beatles fans would go – eight hours of conversation and noodling is a lot – but this isn’t for them. This is for the fans; indeed, it is surely the greatest item of fan service ever made. Too much? Wait ‘till you see it.

Eight Days A Week

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***1/2

As I walked out of a general audience screening of Eight Days A Week, I heard a mature gentlemen say to his female companion, “I’m not sure it was worth $18”. That is the across-the-board price Australian cinemas are charging for Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles’ touring years, and the patron’s not wrong. There is very little here that was not done better in the epic television documentary The Beatles Anthology (1995) and not a lot that will be revelatory to Beatles fans of any level.

What’s being touted is new footage, and there is that. I’d never seen, for example, footage from concerts in Manilla and Tokyo, and that stuff is definitely interesting. Perhaps more importantly, the audio, which has been painstakingly sourced and fiddled with, is giving us better sound from even live appearance footage we’ve seen before many times. This time, instead of the girls, we hear the band. And you know what? They rock a little harder than you might expect from their tamer television appearances.

Also included in your ticket price is a half-hour edit of The Beatles At Shea Stadium, which follows the ninety minute film. But – as Paul himself says in the documentary! – the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves play at that gig, with shocking results. Likewise, the cleaned-up sound for this “bonus, only-in-cinemas” content only highlights the mediocrity of the playing. Paul, in particular, sounds awful.

What saves the whole thing, of course, are The Beatles. I could simply live in their endless company – they were so charismatic, charming, funny and adorable in this period. And that is no small thing. Indeed, if you’ve got the eighteen bucks, there is absolutely no reason not to see Eight Days A Week, because it’s still two hours in the company of four of the most enjoyable people ever.