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Superb Get Back does not rewrite Beatles history, it restores the truth their break-up


Grand finale: Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the roof of the Apple building in London during The Beatles’ last live performance

Grand finale: Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the roof of the Apple building in London during The Beatles’ last live performance

Grand finale: Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the roof of the Apple building in London during The Beatles’ last live performance

That master of manipulation Alfred Hitchcock once said the only part of making a film he truly enjoyed was the editing process.

Locked away in the editing suite, he could shape the story as he chose.

For 50 years the story of the final days of The Beatles as a band has been shaped by the editing choices in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary Let It Be.

Watching that film, which runs to a modest 80 minutes, was a thoroughly miserable experience for fans of The Beatles because it detailed what appeared to be a thoroughly miserable experience for the band.

Apart from the triumphant performance on the roof of the Apple building at the end, it’s a sour and joyless film.

The parts that stick in the mind are the moments of friction, especially the so-called argument between Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who by then had grown tired of being told how to play and having to fight against both Paul and John Lennon to have his own compositions included on the band’s albums.

We see that incident again in Peter Jackson’s superb The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+ from today). Somehow, it seems much less tense and fractious this time.

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This is because Jackson — who as everybody must know by now drew on almost 60 hours of unused footage and more than 150 hours of unheard audio recordings — places it in the context that Lindsay-Hogg chose to ignore.

Jackson, who worked on the project for four years, shows us what led up to that moment and what happened in the days after George briefly quit the band. When he returned, the dynamic had changed for the better.

For half-a-century, Let It Be was the generally accepted version of what happened. It was the wrong version.

Jackson’s magnificent series, a three-parter that’s just shy of eight hours long, rights that wrong, and a few others along the way — not least the various erroneous assumptions about who supposedly broke up The Beatles.

In one extraordinary scene, Paul, Ringo and a few others are sitting around talking — warmly and with not the slightest hint of rancour — about John and Yoko.

Paul jokingly remarks that, 50 years from now, people will say The Beatles broke up because Yoko “sat on an amp”. How prescient that turned out to be.

Given the stressful situation — the band had given themselves two weeks to write 14 new songs for a television special (the idea was soon abandoned) — there are understandable tensions and creative differences.

But the bigger picture Jackson paints on his vast canvas is an overwhelmingly upbeat one.

There’s much laughing and joking, larking around and silly, Goonish voices (a John speciality). An actual Goon, Peter Sellers, who was preparing to film The Magic Christian with Ringo at the time, shows up when John is in full flight and quickly retreats again, withering in the absence of a spotlight to bask in.

The most effective, and sometimes funniest moments are often the most mundane ones. George enthusiastically talking about a science fiction drama he’d seen on BBC Two the night before (so that’s what rock superstars do when they’re off: watch the telly). Ringo thoughtfully announcing, in the middle of a fairly serious conversation, that he’s just farted.

One of the most poignant is a lingering close-up of Paul’s face as, seemingly oblivious to the people around him, he silently contemplates what George quitting means for the band and appears to be about to cry.

The shot seems to go on forever and you wonder how Lindsay-Hogg could ever not have used it.

Oh, and let’s not forget the music.

It’s spine-tingling to see Paul, John and George building fragments of tunes, bit by bit, into what would become some of the greatest songs of the 20th century.

Restored using the same technology Jackson employed on his First World War documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, The Beatles: Get Back looks and, thanks to George Martin’s son Giles, sounds glorious.

Jackson’s film is a musical and television landmark unlike anything else that will stand the test of time.

It’s changed The Beatles’ narrative forever. It doesn’t rewrite history; it restores the truth.