Of all the movies and television shows that came out in 2021, there certainly was no documentary that earned as much attention and approbation as The Beatles: Get Back ,the three-part, 468 minute extravaganza that premiered late in the year on the Disney+ streaming service. Get Back, as it happens, is the second go-round at this material; there was an 80 minute 1970 documentary, using some of the same footage, called "Let It Be," which chronicled the making of The Beatles' 12th studio album of the same name.
But Get Back isn't just more than five times as long. Director Peter Jackson (who knows something about multipart extravaganzas, having given us the Lord of the Rings movies in the early days of the 21st century, has taken all the original footage, more than 60 hours worth, and fashioned something that feels remarkably like we're just hanging with the Fab Four during a particularly tumultuous time in their careers, not long before the group broke up.
I have to admit that having watched the entire documentary, I'm not sure that it needed to be quite as long. Maybe six hours instead of eight? Of course, this is entirely subjective. Fanatics probably will get to the end and want more (and may hope for a Director's Cut that features another couple of hours of footage). Non-fans will be frustrated by the pace, if they watch it at all. I'd classify myself as a fan - meaning I loved the Paul McCartney concert we went to pre-Covid, would do it again, but probably wouldn't go our of my way to go to a Ringo Starr concert. But I love the music, play it often around the house and in the car, and if I found the documentary to be on the long side, I also found it to be a remarkable piece of work.
To me, one of the most fascinating things about the film was the ability to drop in on the creative process. People often say, "I wish I had been a fly on the wall…", but in this case, that's almost exactly what the experience is like. Not to suggest that The Beatles were unaware of the cameras and microphones, but they seemed both aware of how they were being perceived and, in some ways, utterly unconcerned at that moment in their lives about public perceptions. They were, after all, The Beatles - authenticity got them to where they were, and so authenticity was their default position.
The Beatles entered these sessions knowing that they needed to write, rehearse and be ready to perform 14 original songs - and it was the first time that they'd gone into the studio without material ready to go. The original plan was to finish up with a big concert that would be recorded for TV to support the new album, and so they were working with hard deadlines (though not as hard as some would've wished). But watching the way they create is fascinating - they appear to be messing around a lot, riffing on their old songs and playing a wide variety of music from memory that has been written by other composers. But the shagginess of the process hides the reality - this is how they warm up, loosening not just their guitar-and-piano-playing fingers, but also their imaginations. And so, when they're workshopping both "Get Back" and "Let It Be," it is fascinating to see words and melodies emerge. They're playing around, but they're also playing … and it is the ability to experiment and collaborate (especially Paul McCartney and John Lennon) that showcases their extraordinary musical genius.
The Beatles: Get Back is not just an amazing experience that can be enjoyed either over a series of viewings (which is how I did it), or in one long substance-fueled experience (not my choice, but hey, if it works for you, let it be). It is like a college-course-with-music in leadership and management, innovation and creativity.
While King Richard isn't an overly complicated film, it does present a complicated view of leadership, which makes it an excellent and provocative movie to think about when pondering such issues.
King Richard is the story of Venus and Serena Williams, two kids from Compton, California, who, largely because of the relentless focus of their father, Richard Williams, managed to leave their inner city beginnings behind and ascend to the highest levels of professional tennis.
When I say "relentless focus," that may be the understatement of the year.
Richard Williams is portrayed by Will Smith in a deep-dive of a performance that reminds us of just how extraordinary an actor he can be (one of my favorite Will Smith roles is as Muhammed Ali in the 2001 biopic directed by Michael Mann). Williams is a child of poverty who grew up in Louisiana with first hand experience of what is was like to be disrespected and abused as a Black person in the deep south. Years later, the father of five daughters and married to a nurse (played by Aunjanue Ellis in an performance that in every way measures up to Smith's), Williams simmers with anger and bitterness over how he's been treated over the years, and his plans for Venus and Serena are specific, detailed and without room for compromise - he wants to mold them into champions.
One of the problems with the movie is the inherent lack of drama - we know how it all turned out for Venus and Serena, though for some it may come as a surprise the degree to which Venus's achievements eclipsed those of Serena in the early years. We know how it all ends, and it isn't like the Williams sisters faced enormous obstacles once the family - largely because of their father's chutzpa - managed to escape Compton. And so the film largely focuses on Richard's complicated and unwavering management style.
To be sure, King Richard does appear to be a movie in which the real story's sharper edges have been sanded down a bit. Both Serena and Venus Williams were involved in the production, and contemporaneous reports from their early days suggest that there were numerous times that Richard Williams did cross the line in his methods. (Like, say, tearing the heads off dolls to make sure his daughters never contemplated motherhood as a life goal.)
Because he comes from outside the traditional tennis system, it gives him the ability to take a big picture approach and ignore "conventional wisdom." While many see it as a disadvantage, this actually gives him the ability to focus in on the things that matter. And he may know more about raising champions than anyone in the tennis game: "When I'm interested in a thing," he says, "I learn it. How it works, how the best people in the world do it. And that's what I did with tennis, with the girls."
The planning, the broad perspective, the commitment to excellence, the ability to motivate - all positive attributes for any business leader. If Richard Williams was a flawed leader because of his inability to take in feedback from others, which led to a level of untrustworthiness - which can be a problem in any organization - it is still hard to argue with the results. And if King Richard gives us a film somewhat lacking in drama, it does give us a film replete in business lessons worth discussing and applying to the everyday conduct of commerce.
One of our favorite wines in the Coupe household is Albariño, which is largely unique to Spain and usually manages to be both tropical in nature and able to stand up to spicy food. My son's girlfriend brought over a new one (to us) the other evening - the 2020 from Ninety+ Cellars, sourced from the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain. It was delicious … and fair to say that it was a savvy move for her to bring it.
The other evening we also enjoyed the 2020 Estate Rose from Willamette Valley Vineyards - their wines always are among our favorites, and sipping it made us wistful for the times we've spent at their vineyard and tasting room just south of Portland.
Maybe next summer, we'll be back…
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.
Stay safe. Be healthy.