Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Disney+ released the highly-anticipated Beatles documentary event, GET BACK. The three-part series is a monumental and groundbreaking feat of filmmaking, with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson spending four years editing together 60 hours of film footage and 150 hour of audio from the making of the film Let It Be in 1969 into an eight hour rock and roll extravaganza. By painstakingly restoring footage using techniques he developed in the World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, Jackson has crafted an elevated cinematic experience that brings viewers into the heart of The Beatles, a band so influential that many of the narratives surrounding the group have been elevated into pop culture mythology.
The digital dimensionality of Get Back brings the viewer into the sessions with an intimacy that arguably has never been experience before on film: You’re sitting next to Paul McCartney pounding the piano keys playfully with Ringo Starr, eating a toast snack between takes with George Harrison and wondering when John Lennon is going to wash his hair. The level of intimacy and authenticity the film provides firmly grounds the group in the reality of 1969, with the in-fighting and uncomfortable bickering intact.
So when Jackson said that Disney+ wanted to curtail some of the more unsavory aspects of the footage, it both comes as a shock and is also not surprising. Jackson told NME that the streamer wanted all the swearing to be removed from the final cut of the film. The family-friendly platform has censored content in the past, including covering up Daryl Hannah’s naked butt in Splash, taking out the f-word in Adventures in Babysitting and scrubbing the infamous “sex” hidden message in The Lion King. Most of these edits don’t alter the creative vision of the films and they’re mildly annoying at worst (is seeing a bare behind really that bad, Disney?) However, if Disney+ removed the swearing from Get Back, it would crush the authenticity of the film. People swear, people say crass things and behave in ugly ways. The Beatles are no exception.
It was Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr who convinced Disney to keep the footage as-is and pushed back against any revisionist history to make the film more palatable for younger viewers. In this battle, Mickey Mouse eventually stood down to The Fab Four, allowing Jackson to keep the language as-is. Every episode of Get Back starts with a viewer discretion for language, subject matter and smoking. A fair compromise.
Get Back, at its core, is an experience of time and the creative process unfolding. If Disney had won the argument and scrubbed the film of swearing, it would lose its essence and become another piece of light content meant to boost their subscription base. Instead, Disney made the right choice and, well, let the footage be.
All episodes of Get Back are currently streaming on Disney+
Listen to my hot take of Get Back here: