Peter Jackson’s new six-hour edit depicts four great pals working in harmony; the few disagreements they have appear to be part of the natural creative process. They probably wouldn’t have broken up at all if it weren’t for their new manager Allen Klein, who sowed seeds of division.
The original 35mm widescreen documentary Let It Be, filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, drew negative conclusions of what was described as: “the Beatles’s attempting to recapture their old group spirit but instead being driven further apart.”
But Jackson has proven in his never-before-seen footage (from more than 50 hours of outtakes) that the majority of that recording process portrays old friends having fun. While it’s true the band seem caught up in extreme pressures, this is due to overly enthusiastic goals: rehearsing their first live show in two years, a TV program, a new album, and a documentary, all at once.Array
Original director Lindsay-Hogg (who discovered as a young man he was the illegitimate son of Orson Welles) edited his film to focus on the Beatles disagreements. We can hardly blame him for this, considering they had broken up before its release – naturally he felt his film could capture that ‘break up diary’. But a little investigation prove that is not necessarily the case.
John was not the way I expected him to be, instead he’s perpetually quick-witted, happy-go-lucky bon viveur…
While there is no shortage of scenes proving that Yoko Ono is constantly (and awkwardly) present, there is no evidence in Get Back that the band had any problem with this. There is even a number of occasions where she joins in and jams with them (they don’t seem to mind her awful squawking). John himself was not the way I expected him to be (brooding, political, snarky) – instead he seems a perpetually quick-witted, happy-go-lucky bon viveur, just enjoying time with his friends doing what he does best.
Indeed, the Beatles seem very relaxed, polite and easygoing, and at numerous times visitors (including children) join in the sessions as they practice their songs. While there are occasionally scenes of arguments (mostly Paul and George) there is, above and beyond that, a sense of the profound respect they had for one another, and a long history of friendship. Easily half or more of the sessions consist of them having too much fun to record a proper track, instead doing joke version of all their songs, even when tape is rolling.
It is true that George leaves the group during the sessions (soon after to return). But to hold this as proof that break-up was inevitable (as opposed to the normal tensions of recording a Beatles album) seems a stretch considering other members had walked out on sessions before. Ringo left during recording the ‘White Album’, and Paul on the recording of ‘Revolver’. So it seems such a dispute was not an abnormal part of the high-tension creative process of a supergroup.
Most people, perhaps due to Lindsay-Hogg’s selective cut, believe they broke up due to creative tensions, or more commonly due to John’s devotion to Yoko. But they did not break up for either of these reasons.
There were tensions, but there were tensions from the moment they became famous. They were still very young, and indeed they went on after ‘Let It B’e to record ‘Abbey Road’, which is in many ways a superior album. The fact is they had successfully reinvented themselves, as they claim to be trying to do in the film: getting back to their roots. But we only get a hint near the end of the documentary at the darker events to come, as John Lennon begins talking excitedly about the new business manager, Allen Klein. John seems quite taken with Klein’s promises to facilitate his great weakness: agitprop hippy activism.
Within a year of the events of Get Back and ‘Let It Be’, John left the group over business disagreements which were entirely due to Klein.
According to interviews after the events of Get Back, Paul seems to have been the only Beatle to not be seduced by Klein’s false assurances. Sadly the others, particularly Lennon, remained under Klein’s influence, enough so that the group subsequently broke-up, so bitterly that the four close friends did not speak to one another for many years.
Eventually, even in solo projects, each one of them got screwed by Klein. As it happens there is an endearing character in Get Back whose tragedy is a metaphor for the disaster: the gentle giant Mal Evans.
Evans, six-foot-six of jovial hulk, features prominently and memorably in the footage as the bands roadie, bodyguard, and personal assistant. He was very close with all four and even played backup instruments on classic songs (striking the hammer on ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, a trumpet on ‘Helter Skelter’) and appears in four (out of five) Beatles’ films.
It seems Evans enjoyed an executive position at Apple (the Beatles studio) until 1969 when Allen Klein became manager and fired Mal, claiming he was ‘living like a king’ on what turned out to be £38 a week (very low, considering). In 1976 Mal, despondent, unemployed and divorced, died in an apparent drug-induced ‘death by cop’ shooting at his home in Los Angeles involving an air rifle.
Since the Beatle’s tragic break-up the details of Klein’s infamous personal pocket-lining as a music manager have come to light (for both for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones). His activities lead to years of litigation regarding stolen publishing rights, withheld royalty payments, and failure to make tax payments. In the case of the Beatles Klein went so far as to ‘pretend’ to sign a contract while actually signing nothing.
After years of pursuit by the IRS, Klein was convicted of falsifying tax returns and spent some time in jail. He should have gotten a life sentence – for breaking up the Beatles while still at the height of their joint creative power.
Overall Peter Jackson’s Get Back is a wonderful testimony to four young friends who, while remarkably creative individually, were in collaboration a magical powerhouse which has perhaps never since been equalled. Get Back catalogues a golden time for music and film, sadly taken from us too soon.