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Richard Lester
Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Robbie McIntosh, Hamish Stuart, Chris Whitten, Paul Wickens

Not Rated.

Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 89 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 5/8/2001

• Biography
• Previews


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Paul McCartney: Get Back (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Frequent readers of my music reviews may have picked up on the fact that I love to attend rock concerts. Because most of my favorites tend to be older and they don’t tour a lot - such as Bruce Springsteen and the Stones - I don’t get to as many shows as I’d like, but I still hit between 20 and 30 a year, mainly because I go to multiple performances when one of preferred acts.

For example, I saw U2 14 times during 2001. I also hit six Madonna shows and three Janet Jackson performances. While I’ll also go to some other concerts, you can see that the majority of my 30 shows in 2001 added up from just a few sources.

Happily, I’ve attended shows by virtually every act that I’d really like to see. This omits bands such as the Beatles, of course, since they broke up when I was three, but for all the performers I theoretically could see, I’ve hit them all. Unfortunately, some of them made me wait quite a while to do so. For much of the Eighties, I had a list of three favorite acts that I thought I’d never get to see. The shortest endurance came with the Stones. I’d desperately wanted to go to one of their 1981 concerts but I couldn’t get a ticket. As such, I had to suffer through eight long years before I’d finally get to attend some 1989 shows. Since the group virtually disbanded during that period, this eventual realization of my dream had been in doubt, so I was very happy to finally see them.

Of the “Big Three”, one act was - and remains - pretty obscure. I became a fan of Big Country back in 1983 along with others who loved their hit “In A Big Country”. However, I stayed with them after that, and I continue to count them as one of my favorite bands, though they did finally break up recently. I won’t delve into the sad details, but it took me 10 years to finally see BC; there were many “almosts” along the way, but since they rarely toured the US, I wasn’t able to attend one of their shows until October 1993, exactly a decade after I first grew to love them. (By the way, I would have attended their Washington DC concert in December 1983, but they played a nightclub called the Bayou, and no one under 18 was admitted. Since I was 16 at the time, that omitted me, unfortunately.)

While Big Country were the final act to get crossed off my list, they don’t earn the honor as the one for whom I waited the longest. The title goes to Paul McCartney, who I finally got to see in July 1990. Technically, I’ve always considered that I waited 14 years to see Macca, as that was the time period between DC-area appearances; his sole US concert prior to 1989-90 took place in 1976. However, I was too young for rock shows back then; my first happened in December 1977, when I saw KISS.

Nonetheless, I’d started to cultivate an interest in concerts sometime earlier in 1977. I still recall that I’d periodically phone the operator at local arena the Capitol Center and ask if McCartney or KISS were slated to appear. Eventually I got a “yes” for the latter, but never for the former.

Whether one thinks I waited 13 years or 14 years for McCartney, the fact is that it took a long time. When the big day finally came, I was happy to go, but I must admit that my anticipation level was less than peak. I’d loved McCartney when I was younger. 1977’s Wings Over America album - taken from the 1976 tour - remains my most-played record of all-time, and I also really enjoyed the Rock Show concert film that finally came out in 1981; I got a videotape of it in late 1983 and gave it a couple trillion viewings.

However, by 1990, my interest had waned to a certain degree. I still really liked McCartney, both on his own and with the Beatles, but the passion had faded. The same concern affected my enjoyment of the Stones the prior year; I was happy to go, especially since I’d nabbed a front row seat for one of the concerts, but I can’t say that I was really terribly interested in the band at the time.

For McCartney, I also had a great seat - seventh row for the first of the three shows I’d attend - but that couldn’t overcome my mild apathy. It was nice to finally realize this long-time dream, but the intensity simply wasn’t there for me.

For the record, I’ve largely regained my interest in both the Stones and McCartney. In regard to the former, their 1994 Voodoo Lounge shows really resparked my passion. It never returned to early Eighties levels, but I was very pleasantly surprised by that show, and it got me back into their music in a way I thought wouldn’t happen. The same happened for McCartney in 1996, but the reasons are less clear. The issue of the Beatles Anthology CDs prompted a resurgence in my fondness for their material - it was nice to hear something different after all those years - and I guess this craving for music led me to rediscover McCartney’s old stuff.

While it’s tempting to feel that my lackluster reaction to McCartney’s 1990 performances stemmed from my general apathy toward his material, that doesn’t seem to be true. Put bluntly, McCartney circa 1990 simply wasn’t at the top of his game, a fact of which I’ve been reminded through my viewing of the 1991 concert film Get Back.

Granted, I’m not sure McCartney ever was much of a live performer. Yes, I adored Wings Over America and Rock Show, but McCartney lacks much flair on stage. I feel that in almost all circumstances, musicians have to play a lot of shows before they can seem comfortable on stage. Clearly McCartney did boohoogles of concerts with the Beatles, and he also toured a lot during the mid-Seventies. However, by the late Eighties, he’d been off the road for many years. After 1976, he did a few shows in late 1979 and early 1980, and these were supposed to lead to a full-blown world tour, but his infamous pot bust in Japan scuttled those plan.

As such, McCartney did very few live performances between 1976 and 1989, and his lack of comfort on stage comes through during Get Back. It’s possible that he would never have been a stellar personality in front of a crowd no matter what; Rock Show made him look looser and more in charge, but it wasn’t a huge difference.

In any case, the McCartney of 1989-90 looked a bit stiff and goofy. No, I didn’t expect him to become a dynamic performer like Jagger, Bowie or Springsteen, but his stage presence failed to offer much magnetism. As such, the movie seemed somewhat drab just because not much of interest occurred on stage.

McCartney’s band didn’t do much to support him. I’ve read comments that this group could “play rings around Wings”, McCartney’s Seventies group. Technically, that may be true; it’s very probable that this group included more proficient musicians. However, I think that Wings had a great deal more personality, and there’s a looseness and an ease to their performances that’s absent from the 1989-90 band’s work. They’re accurate but they lacked much passion, and I think this contributed to McCartney’s drab presence.

As a whole, the tunes of Get Back sounded decent, but the absence of spark or life really made them seem less scintillating than I’d expect. Some of the songs worked quite well. “Back in the USSR” still burns some barns, and “I Saw Her Standing There” manages to catch a little fire as well. However, most of the other tunes sounded somewhat generic and bland. Frankly, I think this band may have been too technically adept; their skills rendered the songs more sterile than I’d like.

It didn’t help that McCartney was in bad voice during the 1989-90 tour. Unfortunately, his singing has lost a lot since the Sixties and Seventies, and he’ll never be able to regain that form. However, this tour found him to sound particularly reedy and rough. Subsequent performances during his 1993 shows and the 1999 gig seen on Live at the Cavern Club still showed McCartney’s vocal flaws, but they seemed smoother and richer than what I heard here.

Due to McCartney’s lack of stage presence, the forces behind Get Back decided that they needed to spice up the proceedings via other methods. Director Richard Lester - the force behind Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! as well as flicks like Superman II and Superman III - led the project, and he did whatever he could to keep us from shots of McCartney and the others on stage. Of course, we still find a lot of those images, but quite a few other pictures intrude. Get Back features far more crowd shots than usual; the film frequently leaves the stage so we can see the audience’s rapturous pleasure.

This would be bad enough under the best of circumstances, but it’s compounded by the fact that McCartney seems to attract a rather dorky audience. It pains me to say this since I’m among them, but most of these folks appeared to be awfully awkward. I don’t want to watch crowd shots in any case, but the images of these folks made the transitions even less enjoyable.

If Get Back simply stayed with a mix of audience images and stage shots, I wouldn’t mind too much; yeah, the former would still be excessive, but I could still accept the presentation as one that makes sense for concerts. Unfortunately, Lester decided to add a slew of external elements to the presentation. Through many of the songs, he provided clips from other media. The movie included a slew of Beatle snippets; shots from Help! popped up during “Band On the Run”, the DVD’s first song, and they also made appearances in “The Fool On the Hill”, “Let It Be” and other tracks. A variety of other semi-appropriate snippets materialized in other songs. For example, “Rough Ride” showed different mishaps as they affected people, and “The Long and Winding Road” depicted lots of Sixties imagery.

The latter was the worst manifestation of this method. While the clips cropped up during parts of the other tunes, at no point in “Winding” did we see the performers; the entire song consisted of archival footage! All told, 12 of the DVD’s 20 songs included these sorts of shots.

That’s a ridiculously excessive number. I could accept this feature maybe two or three times during the show, but for more than half of the tunes? That’s nuts, and it’s both distracting and annoying. A good concert video should provide a clear and accurate representation of the original performance itself. Various gimmicks do nothing more than detract from the material and look like nothing more than visual messiness.

That’s why I liked Rock Show so much. It’s a calm and logical representation of the concerts, and it conveys a solid atmosphere without any pointless tricks or goofiness. Under the best of circumstances, Get Back would probably have remained fairly flat just because that’s the way the concerts were. However, it could have been a much more enjoyable and engrossing experience if only its producers had trusted the original material and not tried to make a McCartney show into a bizarre multimedia event. Let’s hope that when the inevitable video release from McCartney’s 2002 tour appears, its producers make it a more representative offering. (And if anyone cares, I’m hitting nine shows for that trek, including third row seats for the May 10th show, which just happens to be my birthday. Hooray for me!)

The DVD Grades: Picture D+ / Audio C- / Bonus D-

Get Back appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I’ve never seen a letterboxed home video release of Get Back, and it seems possible that these renditions offer an unmatted transfer that may expose more information than otherwise would be seen.

This DVD was an odd piece of work in that it’s an all-region affair that came from Panorama Entertainment, a firm based in Hong Kong. One might think that it’s a bootleg, but that seems improbable because of the sources that sell it. Amazon.com list it, and I picked up a copy at a mall retailer. Those aren’t typical vendors of unauthorized merchandise, so perhaps this thing is a legitimate release.

Whatever the case may be, Get Back offered a flawed and erratic picture. Sharpness varied quite a lot throughout the show. At times - usually during close-ups - the image appeared fairly crisp and distinct, and it could actually look pretty good at times. However, much of the movie seemed to be fairly soft and fuzzy. These concerns usually weren’t extreme, though some wide shots looked rather hazy. Nonetheless, the film generally displayed a fairly soft quality, and sharpness could often be somewhat weak.

No signs of moiré effects or jagged edges appeared throughout the film, but I did discern some evidence of edge enhancement. The latter could be a little tough to recognize because of the lighting schemes; at times those effects created a natural halo around the performers that wasn’t dissimilar to the ringing caused by edge enhancement. However, I felt pretty confident that edge enhancement did appear; it wasn’t severe, but it was there.

Print flaws also caused some concerns. The darkness of the concert setting probably hid a lot of defects, but a fair number managed to sneak through anyway. Various examples of grit and speckles cropped up throughout the show, and more isolated instances of hairs, nicks and streaks also could be seen. Again, these didn’t create a terrible impression; there may have been more of them, but not a lot were visible.

Another problem occurred due to digital artifacts and some odd video noise. In regard to the former, I often feel reluctant to comment on apparent instances of artifacts because they look so much like film grain. I have to feel pretty certain that the issues relate to actual encoding problems rather than print concerns. In this case, I believed this to be true, especially because some other odd video concerns arose. During many scenes, strange “bars” lightly covered the image, and some examples of rolling video lines also cropped up during the film. Initially I thought that these problems may have stemmed from the source material, but a look at my old laserdisc demonstrated that this wasn’t the case; while the LD had issues of its own, it lacked these particular concerns.

Colors were generally decent, though they usually appeared to be fairly drab. A few instances of lively and bright tones occurred, but most of the movie came across as a bit subdued and messy. For the most part, the hues looked somewhat runny and noisy, a concern that became more pronounced during sequences that featured heavy red lighting. At those times, the colors were pretty thick and hazy.

Black levels were acceptably dark and dense, and shadow detail was decent. The general fuzziness of much of the film rendered these less satisfying than I’d like, however. As a whole, Get Back usually seemed to be pretty watchable, but it rarely rose above that level. It was a bland and unmemorable affair that lacked much accuracy or vividness.

While my comments about the soundtracks of Get Back will be more positive, those elements also demonstrated quite a few problems. GB includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes, though the two didn’t show a lot of differences. Actually, one major distinction appeared as soon as I switched channels; the DTS track was significantly louder than was the DD one. However, once I adjusted the volume, some apparent differences largely disappeared. The DTS mix still appeared to offer somewhat stronger bass response, and it generally sounded a little more musical, but the DD track sounded a bit crisper and more detailed. Ultimately, the minor pros and cons cancelled out each other, and the result was that the two seemed to be very similar.

At times, this was a good thing, for unlike the movie’s picture, the sound did offer some positive attributes. However, the negatives became a definite burden and dragged down the overall picture. The soundfield stayed very firmly within the forward spectrum, where I heard decent stereo separation. At times, sounds were placed nicely within the appropriate situations, though this often seemed to be rather vague and indistinct. Some parts of GB tried to boost the volume of particular instruments as we saw their players. For example, during “Band On the Run”, the drums jump up when we briefly visit Chris Whitten.

However, this was inconsistently used and pretty ineffective at best. Overall the stereo imaging seemed to be fairly good, but the track could have used greater delineation at times. Vocals and drums often appeared to blend across channels, and some spatial organization sounded incorrect. The three guitars heard during the finale of “The End” were appropriately placed within the spectrum, although the recording suffered because Robbie McIntosh’s instrument was mixed at a much lower volume than the others. However, the channels appeared reversed at one point during “The Fool On the Hill”; when we saw a shot from Whitten’s point of view, the left cymbals came from the right, and vice versa. Those locations would have been correct if Whitten had been shown from the front, but since the camera was behind him, the noises were incorrectly placed. Please note that this wasn’t a concern unique to the DVD; I checked the LD, and it showed the same reversal.

Nonetheless, I didn’t have too many complaints about the separation and the soundfield. The surrounds seemed to be little-used for the most part. Some general crowd noise emanated from the rear, and a little musical reinforcement appeared there as well. However, the track stayed strongly oriented toward the front, which was fine with me; that matched the concert experience, so although more active mixes can be fun, I won’t criticize audio that stuck with the natural atmosphere.

Unfortunately, Get Back encountered more problems when I examined the quality of the audio. Much of the track sounded quite good, though it didn’t compare with the best in the genre. Vocals were a little thick and tinny at times, but they seemed to be acceptably natural and accurate. Instrumental highs seemed to be slightly shrill on occasion, but they usually remained fairly clear and crisp, without many signs of distortion. Bass response lacked tremendous depth but appeared to be reasonably warm and loud; greater punch could have appeared, but the mix still showed fairly satisfying dynamic range.

Based on all of these elements, I would have felt comfortable with a “B” grade for the audio of Get Back. Unfortunately, an additional problem hampered the production and forced me to drop my rating severely. Throughout the film, distortion often appeared from the left front speaker. This took a shrill form that made it sound as though the speaker rattled somewhat, and it affected trebly elements. It seemed like an oddly wavering tone not unlike the sound one might hear when a videotape is incorrectly tracked.

I saw no other reasons to believe that this problem did occur due to that issue, but I can’t help but wonder what the source material for this DVD was. While the old LD wasn’t pristine by any stretch of the imagination, it certainly lacked a lot of the concerns I saw during this DVD. This disc introduced audio and video distortion that were not parts of the original film or the prior laserdisc release. Did it come from a videotape? That seems to be a very strong possibility.

Lastly, Get Back adds a few minor extras. It has a Biography of McCartney that looks like it was taken from an encyclopedia, and it also has Previews of some other DVDs available from Panorama Entertainment. We find clips from The Beatles Story: The Lifetime Biography, Jimi Hendrix: Rainbow Bridge, and Joni Mitchell: Shadows and Light. These don’t look like normal ads for the product; instead, each seems to simply provide the first few minutes of the programs.

Under the best of circumstances, Get Back will never be a very good concert film. The movie fails to offer a clear and compelling rendition of Paul McCartney’s live shows as it features too much extraneous material. The performances of the songs themselves are fairly solid but they lack much life, and McCartney’s weak vocals don’t help. Add to that a high level of visual gimmickry imposed by the filmmakers and you have a flawed representation of the concert experience.

The DVD itself is a disappointment. The picture looked drab and fuzzy for the most part, and the sound suffered from some annoying distortion. Apparently residents of Region 2 have received a superior release of Get Back; from what I’ve read, it includes an anamorphic transfer and additional extras. Hopefully a US company will eventually get the rights to the program and release a better version domestically. As it stands, the import version of Get Back isn’t worth the money, especially with a cost of roughly $40 to US patrons.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8571 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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