Peter Jackson’s Get Back was one of the unexpected highlights of 2021. It was hard to see how yet another documentary about The Beatles could contribute to our understanding of the Liverpool band. But Jackson’s 8-hour film, created from footage of the Let it Be sessions (orignially recorded for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s film), managed to radically reframe the narrative surrounding The Beatles’ final years, provide an almost real time view of genius songwriting in action, and induce the sensation of time travel, as it plonks viewers into the middle of the recording of an iconic album, and leaves us there, for hours.
There’s joy in discovering that the boys weren’t at each others throats in the way that popular history would have had you believe. The film chronicles the tensions of the period — including the moments George Harrison’s famously quit and rejoined the band — but it lets us hang out for hours of in-jokes and silly voices, as we observe the well-honed dynamics of songwriting and rehearsals that resulted in some of the most famous music ever recorded.
a few lucky onlookers — and now cinema audiences across the country — witnessed a performance of soul and feeling
The culmination of Jackson’s film is The Beatles’ final live performance, staged on the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters in London’s Savile Row on January 30, 1969. It is this performance that is coming to cinema screens this February, with a new sound mix by Giles Martin and Sam Okell. Joined by keyboardist Billy Preston, The Beatles ran through the tracks they had been writing in the weeks previously, including “Get Back”, “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got a Feeling”. With members of the public gathering atop neighbouring buildings and on the streets below, it was the first time anybody outside of the band or crew had heard the songs.
The lunchtime concert was unannounced, and tension is added by the spectacle of puzzled bobbies from the Metropolitan Police trying to access the roof in order to turn the music down. It all adds to the sense of occasion though. This was the first time The Beatles had performed live since 1966, and by the end of the year they would have disbanded. But for nearly three-quarters of an hour, a few lucky onlookers — and now cinema audiences across the country — witnessed a performance of soul and feeling, with a bit of Scouse humour thrown in for good measure.