If you’re a Beatles fan you already know this but Peter Jackson just released a new documentary on Disney+ featuring hours of never before seen footage of the Beatles writing and recording material shortly before they broke up.

I’ve just watched part 1 and here are a few things I found surprising…

  1. John was upbeat - Though he seems somewhat distracted, showing up late for sessions and writing little new material, whenever he starts playing music we see the beloved side of John Lennon - funny, irreverant, creative, and fully engaged with the band.

  2. Paul was in control - These recordings show how involved Paul was in the entire musical process, demanding perfection and giving tips to his bandmates on everything from George’s rhythm guitar playing to Ringo’s drumming. It seems clear that during this period, when George Martin appeared to be less present, Paul was the Beatles’ principle arranger.

  3. George was not happy - George is a bit sullen and less engaged. The band seems less readily accepting of his new material and Paul is quick to correct his playing, which seems to wear on him. In words and body language, he appears to be going through the motions of being a Beatle.

  4. Yoko was benign - Beatles folklore has it that Yoko’s presence during studio sessions was a wedge that divided the Beatles. While it does seem slightly incongruous seeing her seated alongside John, as though she were a fifth Beatle, she remains largely silent throughout and appears to be there simply to accompany and support her lover.

  5. John was an exceptional guitarist - I always thought of George as the Beatle’s lead guitarist but these recordings show off John’s virtuosity. During these sessions he seems equally adept at rhythm and improvisional guitar and invents innovative riffs in real time.

  6. John and Paul were fine - The idea that they were at odds during this period doesn’t show up in this film, at least not in part 1. On the contrary, there’s a chemistry between the two which is evident in everything they do. The way they look to each other for approval, defer to each others’ judgement on arrangements, and their playful riffing, both verbal and musical, conveys a deep sense of mutual respect and love.

It’s a long series (7+ hours of footage divided into three episodes) but it’s an unprecented chance for Beatles fans to be a fly on the wall while they worked their magic. And it’s full of some incredible moments like the scene where Paul ask for reactions to a song he just wrote and proceeds to play Let It Be for the first time.

Also, the video quality is shockingly great for this era. I assume it must be digitally enhanced but it looks so good that it could have been filmed yesterday (pun intended).