Don't Let Me Down 'cos there's gold at the end of this Long and Winding Road
Peter Jackson (dir)
Disney plus. Shit. I'm still waiting for Disney Plus to cast on the television.
I was waiting for a mission but, when I got one, I'd never want another.
"Do you remember that film 'Let it Be'?"
The voice in the corner was passive. It was as if the answer didn't matter, only how I phrased my response.
"That hour-and-a-half piece of wank with the Beatles bitching at each other? They end up playing on the roof? Yeah. I've seen it."
I keep my response dry. No need to bring emotion in to play. 'Let it Be' was an utterly joyless wank that proved 50 million Beatles fans could be wrong.
"Peter Jackson has got hold of the original footage and is doing his own version."
"The guy who turned a 95,000-word book into three two-and-a-half hour movies?"
"That's the fellow. He's told the studio he's turning it in to a six hour mini-series. But our spies tell us it is closer to eight. They're calling it Event Television."
"Well that sounds utterly fucking delightful"
"Doesn't it, though," the voice in the corner said. "But every fucker is going to watch it and have a fucking opinion."
"And you want me to...?"
"Watch it. Observe. Report with extreme prejudice. People who don't have Disney are going to have to get opinions from somewhere."
If you don't know who the Beatles were, the documentary starts with a quick recap that sounds vaguely like a period March of Time movie short.
Four loveable moptops from Liverpool conquer the world but stop playing live. Their manager is dead. Can they ever play together again?
Where to begin? This is a fly on the wall documentary gone mad. At least a fly is looking for food to eat and somewhere to shit. Flies don't have to listen to the words coming out of everyone's mouth.
As art, just as with watching paint dry, there is a grim fascination as this documentary provides you the feeling you were actually there. In reality you wonder, if you were really there, wouldn't you be hunting for a way to quietly slip out the side door?
To prove my point, Peter Sellars pops in at one point, looks uncomfortable and makes his excuses. I feel he has the right idea.
The band are set up in a studio at Twickenham because it's leased for another film production. They're shooting "The Magic Christian" next door. I doubt Badfinger fluffed around doing the soundtrack to that. Here, the fluff is strong.
I hear the pretentious crap the once loveable moptops half spout with the weight of a thousand Indian mystics. "It's like kinda you now sorta squiggy sounding with a bit too much frert on the not high bit."
Paul McCartney keeps trying to talk about arrangements for songs he's only half written. Ringo Starr looks like he's ready to slit his wrist if could only find the strength to lift a razor blade.
Then he remembers he's cast in "Magic Christian" and will finally get to be a movie star. All he has to do is act naturally. He acts bored instead.
Somewhere, McCartney alludes to the passing of Brian Epstein. He feels the band probably needs a Daddy to keep them in line.
John Lennon is off with Yoko. There is some concern by the other boys in the band that John might prefer Yoko to them. After the first hour of listening to them squabble, I'm on John's side.
Everyone fafs around doing half hearted or dead naff cover versions incorporating "humorous" (read old fashioned racist) comedy vocal styings. But whatever happens, Sir Paul needs to be the centre of attention or his fragile ego will shatter.
The most amazing thing is how lazy they all are. It's quite staggering they ever got anything together. Days pass and nothing happens.
"I was told your methods were... unsound," I tell the Beatles.
It seems they have the musical idea that they can be like The Band but Robbie Robertson and crew were the kind of musicians who worked together. Harrison appears to want to jam until it works. McCartney is so wrapped up in the idea he is a songwriter that he has to impose his will as part of his process.
He seems to sneer whenever Harrison offers one of his new compositions. He takes it as a personal insult if anyone pays any attention to anything George lays down before them even when it's the obvious number-one hit "Something".
The undercurrent of tension is almost impossible to watch. I start writing this review in my head so it will stop hurting.
Episode one heats the pot for two and a half hours before George quits. His band mates don't know what to do and make idiots out of themselves for half an hour. It makes you regret your humanity.
It hasn't all been dreadful. There have been lovely little bits. Yoko and Linda McCartney in animated unheard conversation is a gorgeous shot. The band warble through some piss taking music hall shit while their wives ignore them. Fair.
We see Yoko isn' t there just being the sole force that destroyed the Beatles. All the families are there and the Beatles are doing their level best to implode all bt themselves.
Episode 2 should be subtitled "The search for George and the Beatles find a Daddy". We know from history that George is coming back so the cliff hanger ending was more of a speed bump than something in Dover. Not that anyone needed a speed bump with pacing this slow.
The search for George is frankly daft. Meetings have been going on off camera. The band keep going for meetings off camera. The film crew bug a meeting. Microphone in a flower pot.
John and Paul have a heart to heart. It is more vague nonsense where two grown men struggle to string sentences together. There seemed to be a consensus they should do something. The something they allude to remains unspoken.
For the poets of their generation, by crikey they are prone to illiterate masculinity.
Surprise. Surprise. George is back. The band set up at Apple Studios in Saville Row. (Not that Apple - though you'd wonder how the computer company got away with the copyright infringement). They continue to slouch towards Bethlehem. The gyre widens. One doubts the centre can hold.
Fortunately, Billy Preston turns up. He's a real musician who they knew from their days in Hamburg. He sits in on piano.
Afraid of looking like a bunch of incompetents, all Beatles suddenly pull themselves together and start doing what they're supposed to be doing. Recording a record and preparing to film a performance.
The Beatles have found a Daddy.
When Billy's there, they work. If Billy is doing something else, they return to indolence. Surprisingly, silly "black" voices prove most popular at this point.
"Get Back" starts its life as a protest song against Enoch Powell and his right wing agenda. Thankfully, they don't proceed with this vision as the poor attempt at sarcasm would fly above the heads of most listeners. Uncovered recordings in the 1980s would be exposed by tabloid newspapers in Britain as "Beatles' racist secret recordings". But that's another story.
Regardless. Episode two ends because the week is over. Not with a bang but a whimper.
Episode three begins with the Beatles confronting the idea they are supposed to play and haven't found a venue and haven't got a set. That still takes up an hour.
This hour is not without its own strange delights. Linda's daughter discussing tigers with John. George's genuine enthusiasm for Ringo's "Octopus" song. John and Yoko's support of George doing a solo album.
The choice of venue has been a parade of half thought out ideas throughout the previous episodes. Previous ideas included shipping an audience off on a three-week boat trip to see the Beatles play in a Mediterranean amphitheatre by the sea. No one has mentioned logistics. No one has tried to book a venue.
Eventually, you know this already, they go upstairs and play on the roof to a bunch of folk in the street who can't see them. A few brave souls climb adjacent roofs.
And for about 40 minutes, you get everything you were expecting. The band play a handful of songs, some titles repeatedly. They play great. The reactions of the public both pro and con are marvellous fun.
And joyous too. I still can't understand the method but the end result is fab. I'm going to give it top marks only because the "concert" is so damn good. However, parts one and two should only be viewed by anthropologists, super fans and masochists.
Of course, after the show, Peter Jackson (being Peter Jackson), still needs to go back to more whacky outtakes from the studio to add an unnecessary 10 minutes to proceedings. It is a bloated affair all band approved and lovey. And I'm sure, for the band and their widows, this is a delightful trip down memory lane.