The Fellowship of the Beatles: Get Back

Rufus Helmreich, Contributing Writer

Almost 53 years ago, a film crew captured the preparation and realization of what would be the final performance of one of the most influential and beloved bands of all time, the Beatles. In the lead-up to the show, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr faced a series of challenges: the unresolved tension among the members, the pressure of writing and recording a compelling selection of new songs in only a few weeks, and lastly, the decision of where to stage their first live performance in almost three years. After only recording albums—and never touring—in that time, they seem nervous to put on their show.

Peter Jackson, director of the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, reopens the story of the famous roof-top performance, distilling 60 hours of raw footage into seven and a half hours of intimate viewing. The band members arrive at Twickenham Film Studios in London. With only a couple of weeks to finish, they quickly get working on new material, but the cracks in their dynamic begin to show. John is accompanied, and distracted, by his new partner, Yoko Ono. George wants to contribute more songs. Paul is trying to make sure the band actually gets things done. Ringo has distanced himself from the drama and is just ready to play the drums. There’s a tense exchange where George passive-aggressively pushes back against Paul telling him how to play. George quits the band, wanting to move on to more fulfilling solo projects, but is persuaded to rejoin.

Instead of going for drama, [Jackson] shows us a group of friends, each with their own human flaws.

As a viewer, it’s amazing to watch, and listen to, their improvisational song-writing process. You’re hearing to iconic songs like “Let It Be” and “Get Back” forming slowly. It’s an incredible insight into the Beatles’ dynamic. Peter Jackson chooses to focus on mundane scenes of the band talking. Instead of going for drama, he shows us a group of friends, each with their own human flaws. This intimate look at their writing and relation-ships is made possible by the seven-hour view time.

Moving to their own Apple Studios for the rest of the project, the band polishes their songs. Bringing in their friend, R&B pianist Billy Preston, the band builds significant momentum. Although the tension between the members has died down considerably, the pressure of the upcoming show weighs heavier. It’s looking like the show might not happen at all—and this work may have been for nothing. In a bold decision, they carry their equipment to the roof of their London studio to perform live. The police, having been called for noise complaints, try to stop the performance.

Even when the police reach the roof, the Beatles keep playing. They go from bickering teens to goofy children to rockstars. If you are not a Beatles fan, you don’t need to watch this. But if you have enjoyed at least a few of their songs, Get Back is well worth the commitment.

This piece also appears in our December 2021 print edition.