This article is part of our 2021 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we proclaim the rooftop concert in The Beatles: Get Back as the Best Scene of 2021.
I can’t quite figure out whether there’s a magical quality or a creepiness to experiencing The Beatles: Get Back. Peter Jackson‘s docuseries shreds through countless hours of footage originally shot by Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and boils it down into a pummelling eight.
While the band had cameras on them continuously during their tumultuous 22-day studio session, they couldn’t possibly predict how it would be constructed and manipulated decades later for Disney+ consumption. The tricks they deployed to prevent audio capture of their more intimate moments are eradicated by 21st-century technology. Skynet is live, and it’s combing through your gossip, discarding the unnecessary noise to get to the good, juicy stuff.
We’re granted unpredictable access to the final moments of the world’s greatest rock and roll band. As Billy Preston suddenly finds himself a member late into the proceedings, so too do we as time-traveling flies on the wall. It’s glorious and somewhat wrong, but if you could suddenly spend time watching Jesus brush his teeth, wouldn’t you? And these guys are bigger than Jesus.
Whatever ethical jitters rumbled through my brain during the doc’s first two parts are obliterated once Paul McCartney takes his first step upon the roof at the Apple Corps headquarters on 3 Savile Row in Westminster, London. Mere minutes before, it didn’t look like The Beatles were willing to perform, but a “F*ck it” from John Lennon finally pushed them upstairs. Once there, the boys begin to bounce, testing the structure, preparing to unleash their last public performance together.
Within Beatles lore, this period marks an end, and while Get Back presents many red flags throughout its runtime, none of that darkness covers this outdoor concert. Get Back‘s climactic moments are gloriously joyous, especially as they send confusing shockwaves through the lunchtime crowd below. Heads tilt up, eyebrows raise, walkers come to a rest, and naps are disturbed. What’s all this, then?
Lindsay-Hogg initially caught the madness using 10 cameras: five on the roof with the fellas, one on the building across the street, three with the people on the ground below, and one hidden within Apple Corps’ reception office, where PC Ray Dagg and PC Ray Shayler offer their sternest condemnations. Their police station got 30 complaints regarding this noisy ruckus. Thirty!
Jackson has time where Lindsay-Hogg never did. The Beatles were already a phenomenon by 1969. Frankly, that sentence is ridiculous to write — no sh*t, Sherlock. However, since their destruction, The Beatles’ singularity grew. We only thought we knew what we had when we did. In his day, Michael Lindsay-Hogg could sell a cute little promo masquerading as a documentary, but in 2021, Peter Jackson could take his dregs and transform them into an epic, achieving previously impossible audio and visual miracles. We’ll gladly gulp his eight hours and whatever else he can offer as bonus features somewhere down the line.
The Beatles: Get Back‘s first six hours serve as an intense build-up for the rooftop concert. We experience the titular song spring to life as a hum from McCartney’s guitar during rehearsal while George Harrison yawns around the corner. It’s such an absurdly cast-off moment, and we think we’ve witnessed an atom bomb’s creation, but in reality, we’ve only seen a rudimentary step toward artistic revolution.
McCartney’s tiny tune grows into the sensation as we know it through endless whittling. They run through it incessantly as a group, altering lyrics, mumbling gibberish, and spitting dismissive defamation when ideas bubble into nothing. Weeks later, they’re on the roof, and they announce their presence to the world with a rapid “Get Back” test. They quickly pass through it, then knock it off something proper, and the city takes notice.
When the cops finally put their feet on the same stage, McCartney’s face erupts in a twinkle. The jammy devil has never been happier, calling the law to his feet and The Beatles’ final spin through “Get Back” ends their show on their terms. Jackson announces the finality of this moment with a scrawl across the screen, “This was The Beatles’ last public performance.” And there is a somber realization in those words, but when we rejoin the boys minutes later in Glyn Johns‘ recording booth, they’re on cloud nine.
Entwined in their partners’ arms, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr jam along to their production. Their toes are smacking pavement, their heads bobbing to their aural victory. This is the end, but it didn’t have to be. There’s this fantasy that starts to play in your imagination. Consider if they’d carried this enthusiasm with them into their business and creative conversations. Get Back hints at the trouble in the water and offers a better understanding of that turmoil, but it leaves you with a bloody good show and the beaming smiles of its makers.
Smiles that have never looked crisper or as aglow. Jackson’s wizards digitally adjusted frame rates, upscaled ancient footage, and removed splices and scars. The Beatles: Get Back rooftop concert appears alien yet familiar. These are the Fab Four in your living room, not standing 80 feet tall on a movie screen, or a million miles away atop some stage in your memory. You’re not meant to see them this way, but here they are nonetheless.
With the grain stripped from celluloid, the frames are buttery soft, and it does illicit an uncanny aspect. Of course, by the time you reach the rooftop concert, your brain has adjusted, and bliss is what remains. Through computerized crystalization, an artificial layer is removed, but another slightly different one slides into its place by removing that layer. It’s more real than real, making Get Back still slightly out of reach, which in turn, maintains The Beatles’ godly status.
The scene’s ultimate delight resides with those lucky/unlucky few who were disturbed by the surprise concert. While we’re fully aware that this is it for the band, their last audience is gleefully ignorant. The grumps on the street contort their faces into scowls, and their derision pops joy into the fanatics watching from their future.
The sullen lot are fools, and we take pleasure in that, but not as much pleasure as we do in the already converted in attendance. As one dear granny tells Lindsay-Hogg’s camera crew, “It’s jolly good…a nice bright thing to see at the end of the day.” For us, living in that end of the day, where The Beatles are no more, Get Back produces something new ripped from the old. It’s a gift we never thought we’d get, a celebration of one documentary inside a new documentary.