Peter Jackson is quick to tell you that he doesn’t have a favorite Beatle. Although he’s the soul of chatty cordiality in a call from his New Zealand headquarters, you can tell he finds the teen magazine question smacks of impropriety: “I’ve always liked Beatles as band. You remove any limb and it’s not the Beatles anymore. I must say that I like the Beatles because I like the music; I love the songs.”
There is no doubt that Jackson, after his intensive examination of 130 hours of audio and 57 hours of long-hidden video of the band at the pivotal moment of his career in January 1969, has no non-Beatle equal in the knowledge of the group. If he has one humble boast, it’s his, “I have no Beatles criticism in my DNA,” but he’s no mere fan boy. His six-plus-hour, three-part documentary series “The Beatles: Get Back” on Disney+ is as simple and comprehensive as it could get.
He is also proud to accompany us as the clichés of the Fab Four are turned upside down. So John Lennon, the so-called bitter genius, comes across as the giddiest of the four, as well as George Harrison’s sweet whisperer; Paul McCartney, the cutie, is not just supernatural talent, but the steady steering wheel; Harrison the Mystic is actually the most pragmatic; and Ringo Star is not just the shaggy trot, but a master at finding drum momentum for every new foray into songwriting.
That these insights are available to all of us is largely thanks to the confidence of the masterminds at Apple Corps, founded by the Beatles, who chose Jackson to lead the project. It’s not just his place at the forefront of the art form – thanks to the contribution of his legendary technological expertise to “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” period trilogies. Another key piece of his filmography is his painstakingly restored and deeply human 2019 World War I documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old.” (He sees the abrupt and almost meaningless end of the Great War reflected in today’s Ukraine: “What’s the point? When that moment comes to Ukraine, what has been achieved?” )
Jackson, the Beatles man who rides or dies, will always marvel that he missed the band’s early impact. Born in 1961, when the LP most likely to be heard in his parents’ peaceful New Zealand home might be the “South Pacific” soundtrack. (1967-70) collections and has never looked back – until, of course, the monumental mission he embarked on in January 2019 with “Get Back.”
When Apple released it into their archives and hidden treasures since director Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot the pessimistic 1970 documentary “Let It Be”, he found the 16mm footage to be “grainy and desaturated” and that the sound of the film crew’s often obscure mono tape recorders, with a number of intimate Beatles debates obscured by the deliberately loud scratching of the players. Lindsay-Hogg had been barred from including George Harrison’s now-legendary eerie casual moment, “I’m quitting the band now,” and the footage was shelved, largely invisible in public.
“When I started working on this project with Apple,” Jackson recalls, “it was the next movie after [2016’s Ron Howard doc of 1963-66 ‘touring years’] ‘Eight days a week.’ We were aiming for a running time of two to two and a half hours. But at the start of 2020, even as Jackson strove for a big cut, “I knew it was going to be painful — ‘Boy, the amount of good stuff that people won’t see — and it goes back in the archives for 50 more years?Then the pandemic arrived.
Locked away in a “lockdown bubble” with his longtime editor Jabez Olssen in New Zealand, Jackson told Apple rather boldly: “We just don’t think 2.5 hours is a good idea – take a look. eye to [longer cut] and see what you think. And they said “Yeah, we’re okay”. (The DVD will be released on July 12.)
The 16mm material has been re-tuned, thanks to Jackson’s technical team, in vibrant color and sharpness. More importantly, with only eight months to go until the Thanksgiving 2021 release date, and the original sound boosted for an upcoming remix, came the final blow that would make the final product eye-opening – applying a sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithm using machine learning, dubbed Mal, after Mal Evans, the Beatles’ ever-helpful road manager, who appears throughout the “Get Back Sessions” footage. Mal could isolate the audio, separating chatter from guitar strums, mumbling from buzzing amps, and, say, McCartney’s lead vocal isolated from the octave-spanning harmonies of Lennon and Harrison. (As an encore on his recent concert tour, McCartney movingly sets up a video of Lennon’s “Let It Be” rooftop concert joining “I’ve Got a Feeling” to create a kind of duet.)
Having started the project by interviewing participants such as engineer-producer Glyn Johns, Jackson embraced not just Johns’ wisdom that the real magic of The Beatles lies not in the guitars and the like, but in the harmonies. Also, unlike “All those books that have come out painting this picture of the sessions as dark and depressing”, Johns described the real joy involved. In fact, Johns told Jackson he was laughing all day: “It was a total collaboration of the four guys, regardless of who wrote the song.”
If the release of the doc series created an increasingly strong wave of enthusiasm, Jackson did not hesitate to praise the idea of doing even more: “My real dream would be to do a longer version. It’s just me talking because Apple isn’t really interested in doing that. I think they are wrong.
Some viewers found Lindsay-Hogg, with her speech on the set of a live Beatles show in Libya, obtuse. But not only does Jackson feel grateful to deploy his fellow director as the character, he celebrates his predecessor’s earnest questioning, clever dodging (planting secret microphones, filming in hiding) and stubborn attention: “I love Michael . I love his attempts to round up the cats. In the movie, he’s a script – there’s a lot of scripts, with the writing of the songs, George leaving, all that stuff, but the script of Michael trying to make this movie is the one I really identify with.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.