Thoughts on Get Back Part 2
Part 2 is a downer at the beginning.
George has quit and the rest of the Beatles are dealing with it. They seem to have a false sense of bravura. Ringo doesn’t seem overly upset, but he also has a drinking problem at this point. Paul doesn’t seem to concerned either, but there is a long, lingering shot of a very quiet Paul, and he looks about to cry, as if he is pondering what comes next. This shot just lingers on and on…
What comes next is John, and I think we get to see why he was truly the leader of the band, at least from an emotional sense. He arrives and joins Paul and Ringo, and Mal Evans and Glyn Johns, and of course Yoko, and Linda, sitting around in Twickenham film studio. And John starts talking…. and talking…
John’s spontaneous monologue during this segment is hysterical. I mean, laugh out loud hysterical. He immediately lightens the mood, but I think it is more than that.
John’s humor appears to me to be the key ingredient to his charisma and leadership capability. And that becomes increasingly evident as Part 2 moves on, and the band re-assembles at Apple Studios to work more on recording and less on being in a film. John gets everyone laughing. It is nonstop — comments, faces, strange accents, weird count-offs… he makes things fun. Even George, who is obviously bruised from the past week, has fun.
Fun is at the heart of rock music, and making records.
I did thousands of recording sessions, and generally, they were really fun. I can only recall a handful of sessions that weren’t. Usually everyone had a blast, and the recording was better for it. There’s a lovely moment when the band leaves the studio to hear a playback in the control room, and John throws and arm around Ringo, Ringo reciprocates, and the two nearly skip off arm in arm. These guys love each other.
The mood gets even better when keyboardist Billy Preston shows up. What a shot of energy! The band and Billy go cranking through a bunch of songs, and now things start sounding a lot more like the records we know and love. Especially Get Back.
Get Back is really just two chords, the same two over and over again, on the verses, on the solos, on the choruses... There’s a wonderful segment where we get the pleasure of watching the band figure out the arrangement of Get Back, and that arrangement is what makes the song work. It’s simple yet clever, and what a treat to see everyone throwing in ideas, moving around lyrics, and in general firing on all cylinders. There’s a glimpse into how important the entire band can be to the writing process, and how critical band chemistry is.
The unit that is The Beatles is very self-contained, although certainly Gyn Johns, Mal Evans and George Martin are somewhat part of that unit as well.
But who isn’t part of that unit is Yoko. In fact, once the four of them get going, no one else in the room is much involved in the nitty gritty of the creative process. There’s no Yoko whispering ideas in John’s ear — she’s out in the hallway doing oriental calligraphy. It’s nonsense that she broke up the band. Paul has no problems with her — he seems delighted to smash around on the the drums while John squeezes feedback out of a guitar and Yoko screams her head off.
There is a tension there, though — Paul calls Linda “Yoko” after she makes a comment, simultaneously shutting Linda down and providing insight into how the band perceives Yoko and all women in their circle.
Paul makes another comment early in Part 2, when sitting around at Twickenham waiting for John to show up. Paul rues the loss of Brian Epstein, whom he still respectfully calls “Mr Epstein,” mentions the lack of leadership, and how there was no one there to tell them to leave the girls home.
This is really key. The Get Back sessions are very chaotic. I cannot imagine George Martin allowed sessions at EMI to proceed like this, not with a budget and a time constraint. But George Martin’s presence is muted and that of an observer. He’s not running the show. No one really is. And while the band is at least upbeat, there is a ton of wasted studio time. Sessions can definitely be chaotic, but I would have been kicking people out right and left and getting the band down to work. This sort of thing would drive me nuts, especially with a looming deadline.
But, who knows what I would do in the presence of The Beatles. I can’t imagine telling them to shut up and get to work.
Towards the end of Part 2, while still searching for a way to put on a final concert as a capstone to the project, there’s a lovely moment where we get to watch Paul’s face when someone suggests playing on the roof of Apple, overlooking Saville Row in London. This is magic, and the doing of Peter Jackson, who finds these wonderful moments in the 60 some odd hours of footage that waas originally shot and plops them down strategically in the film. He’s a great story teller.
There’s a lot of wonderful direction (editing) throughout Part 2. Jackson does a lot with juxtaposition, letting music and video images push against each other and the dialog to give us a very nuanced picture. There’s a sentimental quality, as the Beatles collectively remember moments in their intertwined lives, and again, they’re laughing. These guys had a lot of fun. Kudos to Lindsey-Hogg for capturing it.
The fun of Part 2 contrast with the dour and dreadful Let It Be film, which was the original documentary that was made about this particular period of the Beatle timeline. Let It Be presents a very different and depressing picture, in many ways the opposite of Get Back.
Scholarship on this period paints a picture of a band falling apart, at each other’s throats, catty and vituperous. Lennon is described as particularly nasty, McCartney especially self-contained and self-centered. You don’t get that vibe from Part 2, although it is hinted at. Perhaps they were on their best behavior for the camera, perhaps Peter Jackson and the producers have an agenda. Perhaps they managed to get it together and deliver. Perhaps they rekindled something that had flamed out.
Perhaps all of that.