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Up on the roof: The Beatles lead a new British Invasion of “immersive cinematic experiences.”

Films about music are, as often as not, a recipe for disaster. For every worthwhile endeavor — Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, R.J. Cutler’s Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry — there is a Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love, and Rage, a Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, a Linkin Park: Frat Party at the Pankake Festival.

Traditionally, the genre can go in a couple of different directions. For audiences who care most about live performances, there’s the “you are there” cinéma-vérité approach, in which concerts are captured in their entirety to give fans the next best thing to being there. The other option is to focus on musicians’ lives and careers, an approach that was epitomized by VH1’s Behind the Music series, which earned the network a reputation as “the recovery channel.”

Now comes a new wave of music documentaries that play with those formulas in interesting ways.

The highest profile, of course, is The Beatles: Get Back, a three-part, nearly 8-hour documentary that chronicles the three weeks leading up to what would be the group’s farewell performance on the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters.

First aired on Disney+ over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the project was a labor of love for Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who spent the pandemic sifting through the more than 60 hours of film footage and 150 hours of audio that were originally recorded for a documentary about the making of the band’s 1970 Let It Be album.

Placed in its historical context, The Beatles: Get Back is kind of eerie. These are, after all, the same four musicians who, just five years earlier, made their film debut in A Hard Day’s Night, a musical comedy in which a fresh-faced John, Paul, George and Ringo play themselves as they evade screaming female fans and get into all sorts of trouble in the 36 hours leading up to a live television performance.

The Beatles: Get Back can be seen as a kind of dystopian sequel to A Hard Day’s Night, an all-too-real portrayal of four weary musicians spending a whole lot of time making themselves miserable. We watch McCartney creating “Get Back” from scratch, in less than three minutes, while his bandmates yawn. We see Yoko Ono’s look of patient resignation as Paul’s hyperactive 6-year-old incessantly mimics her singing. We hear, courtesy of a microphone hidden in a flowerpot, Paul and John’s ostensibly private conversation about George’s decision to leave the band.

And finally, seven hours in, we come to the bittersweet rooftop performance, a lengthy split-screen set piece for which cameras are situated everywhere.

There are cameras out on the street to capture spectators’ responses to the unannounced performance, which range from approval (“I like their music, it’s very nice indeed”) to annoyance (“It woke me up from my sleep, and I don’t like it”) to somewhere in between (“I don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing.”)

Another camera is hidden in the lobby, where a sullen policemen is threatening to arrest everyone for disturbing the peace. If it’s supposed to be a film, he tells staffers who are stalling for time, then surely you can just dub the sound in afterward.

But the most important cameras are up on the roof, where The Beatles are finally coming to terms with the fact that all things must pass.

Which brings us, perhaps inevitably, to Oasis. Depending on who you talk to, they were either God’s gift to Britpop or the most overrated band of all time.

In Oasis Knebworth 1996 ­— which hit theaters in September and was released last month on DVD and Blu-ray discs — Noel Gallagher leans toward the God’s gift theory. “This is history, right here, right now,” he declares in what may have been, but probably wasn’t, a witty reference to that Jesus Jones song.

Directed by Ridley Scott’s son Jake, OK 1996 is a self-addressed love letter in the guise of a concert documentary, complete with narration by Noel and Oasis co-founder Paul “Bonehead” Arthur. Over the course of 110 minutes, the film follows the band and its fans as they celebrate Oasis’ massive success with a pair of record-breaking shows at the historic open-air venue.

In addition to the obligatory bickering between Noel and his brother Liam, the film gives diehard Britpop enthusiasts the opportunity to see Stone Roses guitarist John Squire join the band for a seven-minute-long version of “Champagne Supernova.” Because, when you think about it, what could be more historic than 125,000 drunken Oasis fans lending their voices to lyrics like “Slowly walkin’ down the hall / Faster than a cannonball / Where were you while we were getting high?”

“We didn’t know then, but it was the peak of the band’s career,” Noel would later tell the BBC, “and we weren’t going there to get any new fans or to convince a journalist that we were the greatest thing since Pot Noodles.”

Oasis closed the shows with a cover of “I am the Walrus.” It’s an interesting choice for a band who insisted they were bigger than The Beatles, a claim Paul McCartney wistfully described as “the kiss of death.”

There’s more, of course. Variety recently announced that director Brett Morgan, best known for his film Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, secretly spent the last four years sifting through thousands of hours’ worth of rare David Bowie footage.

The result is a film that, according to the trade publication’s unnamed source, will be “neither documentary nor biography, but an immersive cinematic experience.” Legendary Bowie producer Tony Visconti is reportedly involved in the project, which was made in cooperation with the late pop star’s estate.

Rumor has it that the as-yet-unnamed cinematic experience will make its debut next month at the Sundance Film Festival. After that, it will be released to IMAX theaters, just like the Jonas Brothers’ 3D concert experience, except hopefully better. 

Music Editor

Bill Forman is the music and film editor of the Colorado Springs Indy, as well as the former editor of Tower Pulse Magazine and news editor for the Sacramento News & Review.

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