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Peter Jackson on The Beatles : Get Back

Vital Thrills got a chance to attend the virtual press event for The Beatles: Get Back with director Peter Jackson last week. The Disney+ original docuseries will be arriving on Disney+ just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Made entirely from never-before-seen, restored footage, The Beatles: Get Back provides the most intimate and honest glimpse into the creative process and relationship between John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever filmed. The Beatles Get Back rolls out over three days, November 25, 26, and 27, 2021, exclusively on Disney+.

Directed by three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, They Shall Not Grow Old), The Beatles Get Back takes audiences back in time to the band’s January 1969 recording sessions, which became a pivotal moment in music history.

Peter Jackson on The Beatles : Get Back

The docuseries showcases The Beatles’ creative process as they attempt to write 14 new songs in preparation for their first live concert in over two years. Faced with a nearly impossible deadline, the strong bonds of friendship shared by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are put to the test.

Peter Jackson said that he’d met Paul McCartney years ago at the premiere of one of the Lord of the Rings movies. “He said he was a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan, and I got to ask him about The Beatles doing Lord of the Rings with Stanley Kubrick and how true that was, and it was true.

“You know, I knew that Paul knew who I was, and you know, he knew that I knew who he was, of course. I think the whole world knows who he is. And so, you know, that was the only real relationship, though. Then, I went to London and had a meeting with Apple Corps.  I was asked to come and not to meet a Beatle, just to meet Jeff Jones and Jonathan Clyde.”

Jackson added: “And all they wanted to talk to me about was that I was just in London on a trip, ‘cause I was in New Zealand. I went to London to get some footage from the Imperial War Museum for They Shall Not Grow Old. And so, I was only there for a few days. And they wanted to talk to me about VR and AR. They must have read an interview with me where I said that I was interested, and that which, yeah, I am. 

“So, they wanted to pick my brains, ‘cause they were doing an exhibition of Beatles… They were planning it for a Beatles exhibition. It was gonna have some sort of VR or AR thing. And that’s all long gone now, but during that meeting, I didn’t want to act like a fan, but one of the things I’d always wondered about over the last 40 years is what happened to all the unused footage from Let It Be?”

The filmmaker continued:”‘Cause I was always curious about that. I knew that, you know, Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot a lot of stuff that didn’t get used.  I had no idea if it survived. I had no idea how much there was.  And no books really talk about it.  And so, I asked my fan question of them, and I said, ‘Oh, by the way, you know, that when Let It Be was shot in 1969, you know, is there any outtakes? Have you guys got anything you didn’t use?’

“You know, I was trying not to act like a fan. And they said, ‘Yeah, yeah, there’s-there’s-there’s about 60 hours of film and 130 hours of audio. And we’ve got all that.’ And yeah, and I’m sort of going, ‘Oh my God, how do I get to see that?’

“‘Cause what do I have to-what tricks do I have to play actually to get to see that? And then they said, ‘It’s strange you mention that, ‘cause we’re thinking that we might, you know, we might have a look at it.’ Because they hadn’t seen it either… ‘cause we’re wondering whether there’s another documentary that we could make with just using the outtakes.”

“And I said, ‘If you, you know, so have you got a filmmaker involved with that? ‘Cause you’re gonna need a filmmaker.’  He said ‘no.’  And I said, ‘Well, I’m actually a bit… I’ve got a little bit of spare time at the moment. I’ve got a spare few years. If you’re interested, just please think of me.’ And they were.”

Peter Jackson had to go through 57 hours of raw footage for The Beatles: Get Back. He learned a lot of things about the “notorious” Get Back sessions. “All the authors write accounts of the Get Back sessions; they weren’t obviously there, but they still write accounts describing them as miserable, most miserable time. The Beatles were breaking up, they were squabbling, there was cameras filming the arguments. They couldn’t be in each other’s company.

“They were bringing finished songs in and just using the other guys as sort of session players. You know, they weren’t… Every negative thing you could imagine over the years has been sort of written and described about these sessions. And so, I was obviously, you know, that’s sort of what I was expecting to see. Now, I did say to them, I said, ‘Look, if this is as miserable as what it’s supposed to be, I’m not gonna wanna make the-make a movie of it. But I’ll need to see it.’ ‘Cause there’s no way I was gonna take a bunch of miserable Beatles footage and try to make a happy film. And I wasn’t gonna make a miserable film.”

However, Peter Jackson explained that it wasn’t miserable. He said he sat in a room and watched it all on a TV over several days alone. “I’m watching it, and I was laughing. And I thought it was unbelievable, I can’t believe I’m seeing, you know, Paul compose Get Back. God, this is incredible. You know, it was day by day, 22 days go by, got about through about half of it and, you know, there was certainly… George leaves at some stage, and, you know, things are going wrong, and they’re trying to work it out, but that happens. That’s just life, you know, that’s not The Beatles breaking up. That’s just an ambitious project that was probably overly ambitious, and things are going wrong. And, yeah, that’s what happens.

“But the guys — they were so funny, and it was great — and it was not what I had in my head for 30, 40 years. It just wasn’t. It wasn’t. And then I was thinking, ‘Well, what is this?’ And then I’m thinking, well, God, it’s a weird quirk of memory and history and distortion that, you know, a lot of the reputation, the bad reputation that this period has, is not January ’69 when it was shot. It was actually May 1970, really. All the misery is May 1970 – that’s when Let It Be, the film and the album, came out. And The Beatles have been announced to break up, you know, in April.

“So, everybody’s reading about The Beatles breaking up. They go see this movie, a fly on the wall. They’re assuming they’re watching The Beatles breaking up ‘cause that’s the headlines, and it’s, you know, an intimate look at The Beatles. They’re imposing the headlines from April onto the film that they see in May, and that reputation has never left Let It Be. ‘Cause I mean, I’ve seen Let It Be in recent months. I mean, it’s not that bad… the film is fine. If there’s any problem with the film, it’s the timing of it, unfortunate timing that Michael Lindsay-Hogg made a film that, you know, didn’t deserve the reputation just because by the time he’d finished post-production, The Beatles were breaking up.

One other thing that was fascinating about it all was how Peter Jackson says the format affected the finished product in the original footage. He said, “I also think that the blow-up from 16 millimeters to 35 millimeters at the time in 1970, it, you know, it just wasn’t a very good blow-up, and it’s very grainy and they’ve lost a bit of the color. So, it sort of has a gloomy feel. And I’m not talking about the mood of it, I’m saying the look of it. So, the gloomy look, along with the headlines. And the entire decades of this reputation of the Get Back sessions, I’m thinking, ‘That’s not the reputation of January 1969.’ Everyone’s talking about May 1970. That’s actually, you know, the historical account is sort of out of synch by about 15 months.  

“And even Ringo and Paul are in that mode. I was talking to them earlier on, and in the conversations that I had with them, I realized what they were thinking about, and I just sat there quietly. ‘Cause they’re thinking about Let It Be.  They would’ve seen Let It Be in 1970, and they’re… You know, I’m talking about the Get Back sessions in 1969, and they’re talking about the movie Let It Be. Then I see, I realize they’re out of synch. And it was only when I started to show them some of the footage on my iPad that they realized that it’s not what they thought it was either.”

Peter Jackson thinks we’re going to get something very different than we might expect in The Beatles: Get Back. He said, “Look, the whole thing is if you’ve got, you know, 60 hours of incredible, intimate… the most intimate, amazing footage of The Beatles ever shot, you don’t want it to be 60 hours of argue and misery. 

That would be the biggest bummer in the world. And the great news is it’s not. The fantastic news is this incredible footage that The Beatles themselves have deliberately locked in their vault for 50 years and not wanted anyone to see it because they think it’s awful, uh, it’s not. It’s not. And so, suddenly, after 50 years, Ringo goes, ‘Oh. Oh, it’s not actually what we had thought it was.’”