‘Get Back’ Makes The Beatles Boring – And That’s Its Genius

Those who come to 'Get Back' hoping to watch a band implode will be disappointed. What is actually presented is much better.

Get Back makes the Beatles boring -- and that's why it's great

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Get Back, a new three-part documentary series that charts the final days of The Beatles, isn’t really about anything.

It has no narrative arc. Peter Jackson, the miniseries’ director, might inject a sense of the stakes via a ticking clock mechanism, with the days until the band’s famous rooftop performance crossed off onscreen. But there is no real sense of urgency. Long scenes of the band strumming away at their instruments amble instead of run.

There is tension, sure — the band were in many ways at loggerheads with each other, their hopes for the future of The Beatles utterly incompatible. But there are no shouting matches; no sudden breakdowns. Problems, when they arise, are treated the same way the Fab Four treat everything else: with wry wit, staring at crises out of the corner of their eyes. When George Harrison, frustrated with what he senses as a lack of care for his ideas, stops showing up to rehearsal, the band around him have a meeting about it, lounging in chairs and turning Harrison’s last words to them before his exit — “see you around the clubs” — into a kind of ironised refrain. Those who come to Get Back hoping to watch a band implode will be disappointed.

So, in fact, will those coming to Get Back expecting to find out anything new about the grandiose myth of The Beatles. Key elements of the band’s legendary story are present — Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s itching competition with one another, the perpetual presence of Yoko Ono — but these elements aren’t the focus. Get Back doesn’t alter the story as it stands. Nor does it reinforce it. The miniseries sidesteps the weight of the grand narrative told by thousands of profiles and books and documentaries by focusing on the mundanity of the group’s time together, the minutiae of their day-to-day lives.

George Harrison tells the band about a film he watched on telly the night before. The band discuss royalties and the ins and outs of copyright law. John Lennon rocks up late, his hair growing gradually shaggier as the miniseries progresses. Ringo Starr watches everything, his eyes heavy-lidded. Paul McCartney sits in front of a piano, putting on silly voices, tinkling the ivories for no other reason than to entertain himself.

If this were any other band, Get Back might be agonisingly dull, a self-indulgent exercise in slow cinema crying out for a tighter editing job. But this is The Beatles, a band whose daily lives have been turned into myth, their legendary status disconnected from who they are as people — the way they actually moved through the world. Being reminded that they were, quite simply, a group of young (devastatingly young) men rather than gods is part of the pleasure of Get Back, a way of reconnecting with their essential humanity.

All of which makes the rare, shining moments of true creative brilliance all the more shocking. Their talents bubble to the surface slowly, often at random: one moment they’ll be lounging around, eating marmalade sandwiches, the next McCartney will be pulling ‘Get Back’ seemingly out of the ether, discovering the song by working out what it’s not. This isn’t the creative process depicted in music biopics, where moments of artistic conception are announced with fury and importance. This is art being made with the quiet care of a carpenter going to work on a door, a kind of insistent, downplayed genius that manifests itself gently, without fanfare.

The reminder, then, is that extraordinary things can be done in ordinary ways; that timeless, epoch-defining music can come from four friends, working it out together. It’s not lightning striking a tree. It’s beauty rising through the loam like rainwater after the storm has already passed.

And then there are the moments, brief but no less impressive, of true solidarity. John looking over at Paul and smiling while they play on the rooftop together. Ringo clapping his hands while Paul works out their next single. George, happily yawning, while in front of him his friend since his teenage years strums on the guitar. This is how music gets made; how friendships get solidified. Look, Jackson says. They were, in so many ways, just like us. And in so many ways not.

One moment stands out. Discussing plans for a live performance, conceived as a grand return to the public eye, Ringo and a representative from Apple lean over a table, while Paul plays the piano in the background. What should they do? How should they announce their new music to the public? A colossal gig in an ancient ruin? Ringo thinks for a moment. “It should just be him playing the piano,” Ringo says, gesturing to Paul. “I just love watching him.” And then, a sweet smile on his face, he does.

Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Music Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.