Get Back: Persistence and Collaboration

By now, almost everyone has heard of The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s eight-hour documentary created from Michael Lindsey-Hogg’s nearly 60 hours of film and over 100 hours of audio, which is currently streaming on Disney plus. Some of us have actually seen it—or at least parts of it. Opinions vary widely: some say it was too long, with many slow parts. At least one writer wanted it to be longer. Then there were the wildly varying interpretations of what we were viewing. Some pundits saw Yoko’s presence as intrusive; others said it was anything but. Some saw magic in the song-writing; others saw tedium in a group of musicians on the verge of breaking up.

What I saw was a group of very talented musicians at, or near, the top of their game creating and shaping their work. And in doing this they used two primary techniques, one of which is familiar to all who do any type of art. The other may only be familiar to those in the performing arts. The first is persistence, and the second is collaboration.

All who work in the arts know about the persistence that is required. Even those whom the world calls geniuses are required to be persistent to bring a finished work of art into existence. We try this path, and when that path dead-ends, or doesn’t lead to a solution that works, we try something else. This applies equally to a phrase in a song, the details in a photograph, the structure of a sentence, or the reading of a line in a film. Almost every work of art requires this sort of determined diligence. In Get Back we see over and over again the band work on a song trying to find the right phrase, or musical piece to fit into the puzzle of what they are making, and each time they go through a song, it seems to be with the genuine commitment to get it right. There are very few, if any, half-hearted attempts at the music, no matter how many times they go over the same song. That willingness to put everything into each effort is a mark of successful artistry.

The second technique that was in evidence is collaboration, which is also a mark of successful creating, particularly in the performing arts. No matter how many movies we see about dictatorial directors or choreographers—and there certainly have been demanding real-life examples of both—it still takes contributions by a great number of people to create a performance of any kind. And in this case collaboration was much in evidence. One Beatle provided a phrase, another added a musical feature, and on it went. All made contributions, and all worked together in the creative process. And although some contributed more than others to this or that song, in the end it was the work of all four (and the occasional fifth, and here I’m thinking of Billy Preston on the electric piano or Mal Evans on the anvil) that made the creation successful.

According to leading “Beatleologist,” Mark Lewisohn, there is a great deal to be learned about the Beatles from Get Back. But there is also a great deal to be learned about group creativity. And mostly what we learned was that for the Beatles, the work was everything. As Adam Gopnik writing for The New Yorker, put it: “The Beatles work first, praise modestly or not at all…and move on.” The Beatles’ interactions and approach to creativity in Get Back provide us with an outstanding model of successful group creation, one we would do well to emulate.

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Date: Sunday, 2. January 2022 21:50
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