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New Beatles documentary "Get Back" recasts band's breakup

"Fantastic," "intimate," and "historic" are some of the words Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson uses to describe the 57 hours of video and 130 hours of audio he combed through to create the soon-to-be released Beatles' documentary "Get Back."

Jackson and his team spent about four years culling down the footage into a more than seven-hour, three-part narrative arc that follows the band's creative process in chronological order. It begins streaming on Disney+ on Nov. 25.

Ethan A. Russell/© Apple Corps Limited

"It was fascinating," Jackson told 60 Minutes about watching and listening to the source material. "And after 50 years, you'd have every right to believe that everything with The Beatles had been talked about. Every bit of film had been seen, every bit of music had been heard, that there was no more surprises with The Beatles."

That was until Jackson met with executives from Apple Corp., The Beatles' record label, during a pre-pandemic trip to London. The meeting's topic was virtual reality, but focus shifted when Jackson asked the question that had been lingering in his mind for decades: what happened to the extra footage from "Let it Be," the mostly maligned Beatles' documentary shot in January 1969?

Ethan A. Russell/© Apple Corps Limited

The answer to Jackson's question was found in a London vault where hundreds of reels of 16 millimeter film and separately recorded audio tapes waited in repose. Jackson extended his London trip and began watching the mostly forgotten footage of his favorite band with trepidation. 

He told 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim about the experience on Sunday's broadcast.

"I was thinking, is this going to really spoil my view of the Beatles? Am I going to see them squabbling with each other and argue? Am I going to see the dark side of the Beatles?" Jackson rhetorically asked Wertheim. "You can only watch something in real time… there's 57 hours it takes to watch it all. And so, I was just waiting. But as it as it went on and on, I was getting more and more confident that this is not going happen."

Jackson then did something he said he had never done before. The decorated filmmaker asked to have the job of producing the new documentary. 

For many Beatles' fans, the album and film "Let it Be" are tethered to the band's breakup. Jackson found the 22 days' worth of footage depicts four friends collaborating and called it "an incredibly amazing historical document of the Beatles at work." 

Ethan A. Russell/© Apple Corps Limited

That does not mean the period was without strife. The filmmaker notes his new three-part series includes footage of George Harrison quitting the band along with other quibbles and conversations among the musicians.

Conversations and moments that may have gone unheard if not for the use of de-mixing technology. Jackson and his team relied on machine learning and artificial intelligence to isolate specific instruments and vocals that were originally intertwined on mono track recordings. Jackson called his use of audio technology the project's "big breakthrough."

©Apple Corps Limited

"We were able to split off the guitars, split off the vocals, split off the drums, and even split off the bass," Peter Jackson explained to 60 Minutes. "The computer recognizes John's voice and Paul's voice. So if they're talking over the top of each other we can either have John or Paul." 

The film is accompanied by the publication of a coffee table book containing rarely seen images of the band, some of which can be seen here. The original "Let It Be" album is also getting a new mix courtesy of Giles Martin, the son of longtime Beatles producer George Martin and one of the driving forces of this new project.

As for Jackson, the release of "Get Back" marks the end of a long and winding journey aboard the Beatles time machine. The New Zealand native told 60 Minutes he did not want to change history or impose his views on the film. A film that casts a new perspective on the band's final album and 52 years later might get the narrative back to where it once belonged. 

Ethan A. Russell/© Apple Corps Limited


The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.  

Footage and photos of the Beatles courtesy of © Apple Corps Limited and Ethan A. Russell/© Apple Corps Limited

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