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I Need a Witness!

The massive documentary, 'The Beatles: Get Back,' highlights the band's creativity while offering insights for audio pros.

The Beatles in Get Back. Photo: Walt Disney Studios / Apple/ YouTube

The other week, Steve La Cerra, Mix live sound editor, FOH and recording engineer, educator and a dry-humored Brooklyn boy through and through, sent in his bi-weekly blog, a holiday shopping guide for the audio professional. Typical in the press this time of year. Number 5 was: A subscription to Disney+ to watch Peter Jackson’s three-part documentary The Beatles: Get Back.

“Yes!” I thought. “Finally, someone to talk to and break it down! Someone to share the stories with, laugh at the goofiness, stand in awe at the fact that the footage even exists, let alone that it looks and sounds so damn good!” For a week I had been looking for someone, anyone, who had seen all eight hours.

I asked inside the industry and among family and friends. Nothing. Most said they planned to watch it, some didn’t subscribe and were waiting until it was available on demand elsewhere. One even said, “I got through the first hour and it was so slow. And I just wanted to slap George. I’ll get back to it.” I presume the pun was intended.

But really?!?! They all wanted to slap George at some point, and I’m sure George wanted to slap them. But slow? I thought it was gripping! After watching 2 hours and 54 minutes of Part One, 95 percent of it spent inside Twickenham (and later Apple) Studios, there was a cliffhanger! It was 1:30 a.m. in Oakland, and I seriously debated starting Part Two.

Slow? In Part One, Jojo is simply from Arizona. By Part Two, he’s from Tucson, Arizona, and he’s left “for some California grass.” Meanwhile, Paul hasn’t quite figured out the words or final arrangement for “The Long and Winding Road,” though “Dig a Pony” and “Two of Us” are rounding out nicely. John is finding the phrasing on “Don’t Let Me Down,” and George is playing around in the early stages of “I, Me, Mine.” Ringo is often sleeping. Even if it’s just four guys sitting around in a big, open room, there is drama here!

I couldn’t wait to call Steve and talk about it, so I did. After some chit chat and an update on the product reviews he has in the works, I said, “Sooooo, why I really called was to talk about Get Back. Wasn’t that amazing?” Immediately he says, “I haven’t seen it yet! I put it on the list because I wanted it as a gift!” Aaaaaaagggggghhhhhh! We had a laugh, I provided the must-see overview, and later I hung up with a promise to check back in.

My search continues, but in the meantime, a few thoughts on Get Back, based on the original film footage and audio recording by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, parts of which were included in the 1970 documentary Let It Be.

  • First, the footage is incredible. Jackson has been quoted that he didn’t want to re-use any of the sequences featured in the original documentary, though when necessary he chose alternate camera angles. So there is a plethora of never-before-seen footage. Forget all that. The restoration is stunning! Audio and video. I’ve read that the filmmakers used a restoration process pioneered on Jackson’s WWI doc, They Shall Not Grow Old. Even so, the source is 50 years old and looks fresh.
  • The audio restoration and final mix…what a remarkable job. Giles Martin, son of Sir George, served as music supervisor, and the presentation of the songs, from the noodling around to the fine-tuning to the live rooftop performance, is excellent. Clean and clear and feeling like mono, though I’m sure they spread things out at times. But what about the dialog in the studio? It’s crystal clear 50 years later, and the perspective shifts between camera angles, along with the sonic environments of Twickenham and Apple Studios, is seamless. That restoration and edit must have entailed an enormous amount of work. It sounds so good!
  • Glyn Johns sure wore some funky-cool jackets. He had the trust of Paul, for sure. And he oozed confidence.
  • Everybody smoked back then. My goodness! Hangers-on who show up for 5 minutes light up! Were all studios like that back then? Really?
  • What an amazing look into the creative process. The songwriting process. A week before I tuned in to Part One, my friend Larry Batiste asked if I could take a look at the first draft of his new book, titled The Art and Business of Songwriting. That was an unexpected moment of serendipity. I told him a few days later that the final chapter could just say, “And now, go watch The Beatles: Get Back.”
  • Finally, the eight hours in three parts covers 21 days in the studio, culminating in the full 42-minute rooftop concert atop Apple Studios in London, the foursome’s final public performance. The filmmakers had access to 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio recordings. I wish there had been more.

I have much more to say, but I’ll stop for now, except to add that I have an even greater appreciation for why The Beatles have retained such reverence among recording engineers and musicians, even 50 years later. It all still seems so new, and that’s hard to do. Now I’m going to go call Steve. It’s been a week…