Get Back to 1969
Last weekend something strange happened to me which has never happened before. I time-travelled back fifty years to a few days at the beginning of 1969.
This wasn’t mere nostalgia nor was it ‘a trip down memory lane’ but the experience I had over three evenings for more than two hours at a time, came closest to John Gillespie Magee’s poem about flying an aeroplane: “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds.”
Before you start wondering if I’ve been on the magic mushrooms, or maybe that you might need to call the men in white coats, let me attempt to convey just how much those several hours that I spent watching Peter Jackson’s re-working of the Beatles’ film ‘Let it Be’ meant to me.
I started watching the first of the three films released on consecutive nights on the Disney + Channel last Thursday at about 10.30 pm. I was mildly curious because of the hype the whole project had received, but intended to watch for about an hour before bed. Initial scenes weren’t promising. After a brief, swift and utterly familiar ‘potted history of the Beatles’ and their rise to phenomenal fame, four young men, one accompanied by a young woman who never leaves his side, enter a huge, empty and quite desolate studio in Twickenham, and gather around some musical instruments.
Image from Variety.com. CREDIT - Photo: Courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd./Disney+. See here
They look as though they have washed up on a desert island, huddled closely together for warmth and companionship. History tells us that they are coming to the end of a collaboration which had, arguably, produced some of the most beautiful and memorable songs ever composed; but in that moment, they are still, nominally at least, The ‘Fab Four’ who have come together to be filmed for a documentary by Michael Lindsay- Hogg. He wants this to show them creating the songs for a new album, possibly as a rehearsal for a live TV show or possibly for Lindsay-Hogg’s preferred objective: the preparations for a hugely extravagant live performance in an outdoor amphitheatre in the desert in Libya.
From the outset it quickly becomes clear that they’re not on land at all but completely at sea, rudderless and going nowhere, but from the moment that Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Yoko Ono enter that desolate space, I am completely mesmerised, sleep is no longer an option, and suddenly, within no time at all, I have ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ and am transported back into the mind and body of my 21 year old self. I know these loved and familiar faces so well, I know the sound of their voices and the harmonies and rhythms of their music. Logically, I also know that Lennon tragically has only another eleven years of life before he’ll be shot dead outside his home in New York, and that George is long dead of lung cancer aged just 58, having himself survived a violent knife attack. However, the charm of Peter Jackson’s remastered film is that it looks and sounds as if it was recorded yesterday. Hence the impression of time travel.
Lindsay Hogg’s camera gets in so close and lingers so long on each face that, in Paul McCartney’s case, you can practically count his individual eyelashes. And from the distance of fifty years there are a great many insights and surprises.
First Insight: They Are All Insanely Talented Musicians
Image from Variety.com. CREDIT - Photo: Ethan A. Russell/Apple Corps Ltd. See here
No surprises there, but this film shows precisely how they created the masterpieces that have endured for more than half a century. Paul and John sing catches of tunes, try them out on a piano or guitar, improvise (sometimes crazy) lyrics, they laugh, play, mess around, try again and slowly something emerges from these musical games to become the songs that you’ve known your whole life.. ‘Get Back to where you once belonged’ ’ gradually emerges as a protest at Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration rhetoric and then, as Paul is ‘doodling’ a song on his own in the background, you hear him pick out the melody for ‘Let it Be’ which slowly resolves into: “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom ‘let it be, let it be. let it be, oh let it be, let it be’…..” and you know that Paul knows that they are in trouble and it’s not going to end well.
And later George has come up with a new lyric which he can’t quite complete: ‘Something in the way she moves, attracts me like…… a pomegranate’. He sings the oh so familiar tune to one of the greatest love songs ever written and you find yourself screaming ‘attracts me like no other lover’ you fool! Fortunately you know that he’ll get there in the end, although you also know that ultimately his marriage to the inspiration for that song, his wife Pattie Boyd, will end in divorce and she will then marry his great friend, Eric Clapton.
For the most part Ringo looks tired, sad and watchful, as though waiting for his parents to announce their divorce whilst desperately hoping they won’t. However, when needed he springs to life, picks up his drumsticks and supplies exactly what’s needed to add the perfect beat to the music the others are creating.
Paul and John may now be on divergent paths with Paul about to marry Linda who is already carrying their first child, and John is clearly besotted with his new love Yoko, but their first love is so obviously for each other. They love to make each other laugh, they love to sing their wonderful harmonies together and whilst doing so they look at each other with so much love that you can feel just how heartbroken they’ll be when the group finally splits up.
First Surprise: Yoko Ono
Image from Independent. CREDIT - Photo: David Nutter. See here
Throughout the three films I constantly wondered what was going on in Yoko’s mind. She is totally inscrutable and completely mute. So much so, that at one point Paul says that Yoko makes him think of a white wall and you know exactly what he means. To be fair he also says of her and John: “They just want to be together” refusing to judge or criticise. There is one short scene during which Yoko becomes animated and engaged when Linda arrives on set for the first time and the two chat like old friends. I came to the conclusion that the demonisation of Yoko as the divisive and manipulative harpy who caused the Beatles to split was grossly unfair and very likely hugely misogynistic.
Their look and clothes have barely dated at all and everything that the four of them are wearing could still work today. Paul favours collarless shirts in beautiful soft colours worn with a dark waistcoat and John and Yoko often coordinate their clothes so that they look like twins, but it is Ringo and George who have the most fabulous wardrobes. My absolute favourite was in the third film when George appears in a stunning pink striped two piece suit teamed with a deep purple high necked ‘blouse’. The same day Ringo also wears one of his favoured blouses, this one a red polka dot with full sleeves and ruffles cascading down the front. How beautiful they all are!
I realise that I sound a bit loopy but these three films affected me profoundly. I was an avid Beatles fan, falling in love with them (especially Paul, predictably) at a live concert in Cambridge in 1963, and their music was the soundtrack of my teenage years. So, over eight hours last weekend I ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth and truly felt as if I ‘danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings’. Thank you Peter Jackson for your painstaking work combing through more than 60 hours of tape originally shot by Lindsay-Hogg to produce these three wonderful films. They transported me to a time in my life when I’d just turned 21 and was about to start my adult life. For a few hours It was possible to believe that I was still that young woman with her life before her and, just like the Beatles themselves, with absolutely no idea what the next fifty years might bring.
Look Fabulous Forever do not own all of the images used in this blog. Please note that all images and copyrights belong to their original owners. No copyright infringement intended.
Upcoming Event Information:
Makeup Magic Monday - All About Party Makeup
Makeup Magic with Tricia Cusden and Sally Deung: we are going to be hosting a LIVE Zoom session in which Sally and I will talk all things party makeup ahead of the holiday season!
We will be running you through our favourite products and techniques for achieving a dazzling night time look fit for any formal do!
Day: Monday 6th December
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB
Film Club - The Good Liar
Available on Amazon Prime
Day: Friday 17th December
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB