The year 2021 marks the year of docu-rock. This year saw the release of three documentaries directed by famous directors about important and influential rock bands, each in its own way. The first “Sparks Brothers” by director Edgar Wright is a song of praise for the most important band that not enough people know. The second is the film about the Walt Underground by director Todd Haynes which can be watched on Apple TV +.
The third and most talked about one is the very long series / movie that the director of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy Peter Jackson put on the Beatles. “The Beatles: Get Back” is broadcast on the streaming streaming service Disney Plus, which has not yet arrived in Israel and it is still not so clear when it will arrive.
It consists of archival footage from a recording session the band held in ’69. Jackson managed to get his hands on 60 hours of footage and audio clips that he reduced to eight hours.
The three documentaries use completely different approaches to tell the band’s story. Edgar Wright did manage to bore them with two and a half pointless points in which he went through each and every one of the dozens of Sparks albums (fair disclosure: I am one of her ardent fans).
Todd Haynes, on the other hand, with the help of extraordinary archival research, put together a film that is a stunning two-hour video art exercise about one of the most fascinating periods in the history of New York City.
But the most significant achievement in my eyes is that of Peter Jackson who has taken just one small piece in the band’s busy career, whose story has been ground to a pulp in countless documentaries and feature films. Amazing that no one so far has managed to grasp the essence of the band as well as these eight hours, which many will find tedious.
Indeed, it’s quite difficult to get used at first to Jackson’s cinematic choice not to use interviews, or narration and to provide almost no context to the audience, other than a few screen captions here and there. At first it feels like putting material on a timeline without putting any thought into them. But once practiced, the result is mesmerizing senses that one can simply immerse oneself in and never want to get out of.
Some would say that this is a film for the band’s ardent fans and that the younger generation who are not so familiar with the Beatles’ music will not be able to survive the experience of seeing them jamming and chattering for eight hours. So this is, no. People nowadays listen to podcasts. Many of them are just made up of pointless conversations, gossip about nothing.
Indeed, watching this docu sometimes feels like listening to a podcast. While sometimes it feels like you’re watching a bunch of friends crystallize with inner jokes that are hard to understand or fit into, but you can just get sucked into it.
Aside from a few dramatic moments from the first episode that I will not ruin here, the dramas take place in this film over a very small fire. Contrary to the sensations the media tried to create around the band in real time, it seems that Paul, John, George and Ringo Di got along most of the time, even in the tough times. And the times, at least in the first episode, were very difficult.
Pretty amazing to see how some of the myths about the band are shattered one by one. Yoko was a little weird, but she was not really that intolerable and the disagreements with her were mostly professional. The four do not really consider India as a year-long experience and they were quite cynical about it in retrospect.
In general, the Beatles were not rock stars full of themselves with a deity complex. They were four friends from Liverpool who loved Chuck Berry and Ray Charles and they were very but very grounded and mostly professional. They care that the sound of the amplifiers sounds good and that the film they are filmed with is of good quality, they will rule out ideas that will offer them if it will be similar to something they have done before.
They messed around a lot with their image and sometimes felt jealous of their competitors, especially the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. But it was a healthy jealousy that was voluntarily predicted to succeed and be the best in a rather limited and limited market at the time.
So yes, Peter Jackson’s rather bold choice, it should be noted, to present the Beatles raw, unfiltered and uncensored and with minimal editing can be a bit challenging and repetitive to watch. But there really is no other way to tell this story. And it’s better that way, after decades of serving the Beatles on a tray of money, it’s time for them to be seen as they really are.
Perhaps after years of doing countless documentaries on interview-based rock music, called in professional parlance “Talking Heads” (regardless of the band), this series, which is actually an eight-hour film, will encourage creators to break free from conventions and approach things a little differently. After years of Netflix dominating the TV documentary market and going mostly for formulaic crime crime, the arrival of Disney Plus and Apple TV + may mark a new era in the way docu is accessible to the public, and that will be a welcome change.