The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert review – a towering time capsule | Movies


Peter Jackson recently reignited passionate awe with The Beatles: Get Back: his epic, intimate eight-hour TV re-edit of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary footage for Let It Be, about the recording of the Beatles’ 1970 album. The centrepiece has been released as a standalone event in cinemas – initially in large-format Imax, but now also in conventional theatres. This is the legendary and mysteriously intended rooftop concert, in which the band (with guest keyboardist Billy Preston) played atop the Apple offices in Savile Row, London, in the freezing cold, for stunned or curious observers who had clambered on to the neighbouring roofs, and for the cheerful crowds below.

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The cameras captured the event, and the amazing 60s faces of Londoners at street level and up there on the roof: some looking bored, like the indifferent onlookers at Calvary depicted in Jan Van Eyck’s Crucifixion and Last Judgement. Most hilariously, there are also the nonplussed coppers – one with a Blakey/Hitler moustache – intent on shutting the whole thing down, who were cheekily being stalled down in reception for as long as possible.

A few people ask “Why?” Who were the Beatles performing to, and for? It’s a good question, and this film is unmissable despite, or because of the fact, there is no answer. Did they want to get back to their rock’n’roll roots? Not exactly. This was a public concert that was exalted, way above the public, which most of the public couldn’t see (the band don’t even peep over the roof’s edge to wave). In that pre-social-media age, word didn’t really get out until it was all over. Did the Beatles really, in their hearts, believe that this would kickstart a new live profile for the band? Or was this their unacknowledged and poignant farewell?

This engrossing film is a time capsule of London itself – the faces not so very different from those you would see in the 40s or 50s. (How quaint to hear about Tucson, Arizona, and California in cloudy Britain – which doesn’t here look particularly transformed by the 60s flower power revolution.) And for those of us in the post-Beatles age there is something very moving in the idea of those crowds in January 1969, casually taking for granted living in a world where all four Beatles are still alive, still together and still making music.

The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert is released on 18 February in cinemas.

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