Updated weakly.

John P. has a PATREON. / King-Cat 81 is OUT.



Sunday, November 28, 2021

THE BEATLES - GET BACK (dir. Peter Jackson, 2021)

In the fall of 1979, either for my birthday or for Christmas, I asked my mom for some Beatles albums. This is one of the great mysteries of my life, because up to that point, my personal record collection consisted of A) the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and B) The Stranger, by Billy Joel. My mom had a copy of If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears by the Mamas and the Papas that we played as kids, and my dad had his collection of scratchy Sinatra albums that came out on Saturday mornings, but the Beatles were a non-entity in our house growing up. So I have no idea what prompted me to ask my mom for those records.

In any case, one morning I was presented with the Red Album and the Blue Album. Those two records changed my life in ways that I may never fully realize. They were like receiving a treasure map for some alien land, a land that was mysterious, and wonderful, and even a little bit scary sometimes. 

I used to listen to them over and over, standing at the side of the couch and pretending to play piano. I loved how they told a story. How they started so simple, yet so clever, and got progressively deeper and weirder as you went on. And then at the end they just started rocking again... "Revolution" and "Old Brown Shoe." I don't even think I knew what "Rock n Roll" was, but I was unknowingly receiving a crash course.

Then there was Rarities, with "There's a Place" and "Misery," and "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," and that bizarre reflective double album, Rock n Roll Music -- with raunch like "Bad Boy" and "Hey Bulldog" on it.

Meanwhile I was checking every Beatles book I could out of the library. I obsessively memorized each detail, learned all the trivia, went to the School Of Cosmic Beatles Fandom. 

The hot lunches at school were $1.90, so each morning my mom would press two dollar bills into my hand on the way out the door. I saved the dimes I got in change and every twelve weeks, when I had $6.00 saved up, I made the pilgrimage to the Flip Side to buy my next Beatles album.

I pored over my Beatles books, learning every tiny detail about albums I'd not yet heard, and ranked them based on how crucial they seemed, creating a long-term Purchasing Strategy... One after the other, they became mine: Revolver, Sgt. Peppers, Rubber Soul. (The White Album was a double so I asked for it for Christmas 1980.)

And then John got shot. I was in the bathroom getting ready for school. My mom knocked on the door and told me, "It was just on the news... one of the Beatles got shot last night..." That day at school was one of the strangest days ever. Beatles music poured from every room in the building. The teachers all had radios on in the classroom that played Fabs tracks nonstop. And they were crying. I was a little too young to understand, in all but the most abstract way, what had happened.

The arrival of the White Album that Christmas was the arrival of a kind of Rosetta Stone, a tool for me to use to understand the universe. Those photo inserts, the crazy poster, the lyrics. John Paul George and Ringo. Dear Prudence. Back in the USSR. Happiness is a Warm Gun. Yer Blues. Revolution 9. I was cosmically proud to learn that Paul McCartney wrote, and the Beatles recorded, the song "Birthday," ON THE ACTUAL DAY I WAS BORN, September 18, 1968.

In High School, my Freshman year art teacher, learning of my Beatles obsession, came prepared with a trivia question for me every morning. I almost can't believe it, but she never stumped me once. I remember one day, almost blowing it, my mind a blank, digging painfully deep in frustration, until finally I blurted out, correctly, "RORY STORM AND THE HURRICANES!!!"

For three or four years, from 1979-1982, all I listened to was the Beatles, all I read about was the Beatles, and all I thought about was the Beatles.

Eventually I started listening to New Wave music, and, oddly, Yes (they reminded me of childhood, and as I entered puberty with its attendant hormonal insanity, my childhood took on a kind of peaceful, hopeful resonance for me). Then of course, punk, and Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Flipper, and REM; Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Robyn Hitchcock. But I always loved the Beatles.

Nowadays, once or twice a decade, I fall back into my Beatles hole. I listen to all the records again, read a few new books, and as time goes on, my understanding of them continues to grow and evolve. With each new phase of my life, I see their work in a different light.

Peter Jackson has taken the old, buried film shot to make their 1970 movie, Let It Be, notorious for its depiction of a once inseparable band on its last legs, cleaned it up and re-edited it with modern technology, and gifted Fabs Obsessives with over 7 hours of incredible footage. If nothing else, the story has grown exponentially richer. We all know how it ends, but we now see firsthand how it happened day by day. All the little asides noted in books and bootlegs have been made clear for everyone to see, with their own eyes.

The movie is not perfect. It's boring at times (when the sessions were boring, you really feel it), but if you make it through the dismal early sections, you see the band gradually come back to life, and for a brief moment in time, rekindle enough of the spark to get the job done. The constant quick cutting, and unfortunate slicing and dicing of songs into three second snippets, made my brain hurt after awhile, but that only seemed to make the transcendent moments come even more vividly to life. The scene of McCartney realizing his band, his life, was this close to just disappearing one day, brought tears to both his eyes and mine. As Lennon re-energizes after a heart to heart with ol' Paul, his ferociously smart and cutting brain-tongue steals scene after scene. George settles in and smiles, and Ringo seems relieved at last to be finally playing music.

The famous rooftop concert, now extended to include the full set, is stunning. In contrast to the uncertainty and lack of resolve of even a few days prior, once the lads finally climb the stairs and plug in, they instantly return to being an unstoppable force of nature.

Clearly this movie is not for everyone. But for anyone who loves the Fabs, or loves the sixties, or loves old vintage music/recording gear, it's a stunner. It'll turn your brain inside out for a few days.

(This essay originally appeared in Criterion Diary #9, my online movie review column for Patreon supporters. For information on joining, please visit my site at www.patreon.com/johnporcellino Thank you!)