If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace. John Lennon.
I have just finished watching 19 episodes over two seasons of an American serial titled, Boss. In case any of you is interested, it is being streamed on the Amazon Prime Video channel. My providing this information is in no way to be construed as a recommendation to view it. If you decide to watch it and find it unbearable after the first episode, that is entirely your lookout. On the other hand, you might even enjoy its fast paced, if a tad grim, action. So there, I have covered myself on all bases.
The eponymous Boss is the mayor of Chicago, corrupt to the core in addition to suffering from a degenerative brain disorder and he is surrounded by colleagues harbouring vaulting ambition and dubious intent, family members with nasty habits and some not very nice political adversaries. The mayor’s motto in life appears to be, ‘Look the other way so long as the job gets done.’ In fact, I was hard put to it to spot a single well-intentioned character in the entire series. There was one decent chap, the mayor’s 2IC who was summarily bumped off at his instance. Clearly not a plot for decent chaps. There’s plenty of drugs, booze, sex and, of course, gory murders to keep the viewers on the edge of their seats, and their teeth on edge. If this series is intended to portray normal life in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, I am glad I never set foot in it. One reflects, ironically, that it was in Chicago on September 11, 1893 that Swami Vivekananda stunned the World’s Parliament of Religions with his brilliant address on tolerance and universal brotherhood. After watching Boss one can only paraphrase Mark Antony, ‘Oh what a fall was there, my Chicagoans!’
This is not to be taken as a review of this somewhat dark and unpleasant serial about sleaze and chicanery in high places. However, the thing that got my goat was that every time the action portended some potential for heightened drama, the director decides to introduce an almost explicit and irrelevant sex scene. Let’s just say that if it got any more explicit, the serial would have qualified for a triple-X rating. The frenetic rolls-in-the-hay could be in somebody’s office, the mayor’s kitchen, on the deck of a luxury yacht, and of course, the inevitable back seat of a car. In fact, there was no accounting for when and where the couple (and they may have met only a few minutes earlier in the scene) would decide to drop trousers and skirts and make the proverbial pig’s breakfast of the kitchen table. With all those knives, forks and cooking implements around, they could have done themselves a serious injury. Pity they didn’t. The comic potential therein completely escaped the unsubtle director, who refused to draw the line even at same sex shenanigans.
Now I am no prude and can tolerate the odd love scene in moderation, so long as the sequence is relevant and quickly pans to a painting on the wall displaying two love birds, with the background score rising to a climactic crescendo. After all, certain things should be properly left to the imagination. I am used to that sort of thing in our wonderful Indian films from a bygone era. Which is a real pity because the criminal element in Chicago with political backing could have made for a more compelling series, if gratuitous sex and mindless violence had not reared their ugly heads at the wrong times. That pretty much sums up all I have to say on Boss.
I shall therefore turn to something far more pleasant on cable television. Get Back is not merely one of The Beatles’ greatest hits, but is now the title of a seven-and-a half-hour documentary spread over three episodes on the Disney+Hotstar channel. Directed by Peter Jackson, the New Zealander who brought to the silver screen J.R.R. Tolkien’s two monumental trilogies, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, Get Back is something to savour, particularly if you are partial to the music of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. They went to work with over 60 hours of raw film footage (originally shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg) and 150 hours of audio tape mostly filmed and recorded in 1969. Performed live for the very last time on the rooftop of their recording studios in London’s tony Savile Row, Get Back painstakingly and memorably pieces together The Beatles’ method and work ethic. As viewers, we become unwitting ringside spectators to the blood, toil, tears, sweat, tension and dollops of humour that went into the making of a memorable album and the spontaneity with which a live concert is performed without the knowledge of their adoring fans.
Those of us who worshipped at the altar of Beatlemania during the swinging sixties will be very familiar with all the songs that are rehearsed and put together during the making of Get Back. Even if you were not part of those heady days, Beatle songs continue to fill our lives and that of several successive generations. What is particularly wonderful about the episodes is the quality of the edited footage, or rather what Peter Jackson has wrought with the original tapes. The film, technically, shines with such brilliant clarity that we feel as if it was shot just a couple of months ago. The late John Lennon, had he not been cut down in his prime, would have been 81 today. George Harrison, who died of cancer would have been 78. The two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are 79 and 81 respectively. However, on Get back, you see them at the very prime of their lives, in their late 20s. Vibrant and preternaturally gifted musicians, they throb with life and joie de vivre.
As mentioned earlier, one of the many joys of viewing this documentary is the surprise element that awaits passers-by on the busy streets in and around the building where the Fab Four decide to play, almost impromptu, a selection of songs shortlisted for the Get Back album. On the terrace. Curious at first, Londoners of all ages, men and women, stop in awe and wonder once they realize what they are listening to but can’t actually see. A camera follows many of them to gauge spontaneous reactions, which range from stunned surprise to mild irritation at the disruption of normal life. Then the police swing into action wondering who is ‘disturbing the peace,’ as they receive complaints from the neighbours over the unbearable racket. The bobbies conduct their investigation with utmost politeness and courtesy and by the time they reach the rooftop to figure out what’s what, the performance is over. The interaction between the long arm of the law and the studio officials provides for some good-natured, comic interludes.
To watch John, Paul, George and Ringo play with gusto and energy is a rare pleasure, particularly with Peter Jackson’s marvelous editing, along with the intelligent use of split frames, whereby viewers can simultaneously enjoy the performance and the awestruck reactions of the street crowds. Most of all, to watch, arguably the greatest rock band ever, up close and personal, is a double scoop of delight. The recording sessions, the brainstorming, the conflicts and the sheer tension of trying to put an album out in record time, we experience these moments vicariously.
As for the main protagonists, John Lennon with his impish smile, constantly joking and miming for the cameras, steals the show for me. His charisma is infectious. His wife Yoko Ono is a constant presence, sticking to John like a leech, but otherwise unobtrusive. The other spouses make periodic appearances. A surprise visitor during the recording sessions is famed comedian, Peter Sellers. Paul McCartney seems to be the self-appointed leader of the group, initiating moves and pressing his colleagues to up their game. George Harrison, ‘the quiet Beatle,’ provides some drama by walking out midway during the sessions, threatening never to return. Somehow, he is persuaded and, thankfully, gets back in good spirits. Ringo Starr plays the drums but is clearly out of the limelight. All the while, ‘the fifth Beatle’ George Martin, their legendary record producer, keeps things under control while managing his four prima-donna stars.
Whether you are a Beatle fan or not, Get Back is a must watch for any cinema buff. You wonder how technology can bring to life something that happened almost 60 years ago with such vividness, almost making the waters part, in a manner of speaking. Amazing stuff. And lest we forget, there’s the music. What is a documentary on The Beatles without their music? The songs, a fair selection from the recording sessions, not all of them complete, but fascinating in the process of their making. Let It Be, I’ve Got a Feeling, Dig a Pony, The Long and Winding Road, and of course the title track, Get Back. And many more, all of which are a part of the soundtrack of our lives.
So, there you have it. Two recent selections from my cable channels – the Bad and the Ugly, as well as the Great and the Good. Boss, produced in 2011 represents the former while Get Back, filmed in 1969 and put together in 2021, a shining example of the latter.
Postscript: As I put this piece to bed, news filters through of the passing of veteran actor Sidney Poitier at the ripe age of 94. Reams of appreciation are already cramming the conventional and social media. Race relations was a central theme of many of his movies. In terms of mentions, To Sir, with Love, with Lulu (who co-stars) belting out the title song, appears to be hogging much of the limelight. My own favourites of this trail-blazing actor will have to be Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which also starred the magnificent Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Not to forget the gritty In the Heat of the Night, in which Rod Steiger goes head-to-head with Sidney Poitier. R.I.P.