The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Directed by Ron Howard
Published Sep 13, 2016Many decades before dislikeable people in front of you began recording live concerts using their camera phones, fans brought their clunky cameras to Beatles shows to capture the band in its prime. And now, thanks to Ron Howard's lovingly rendered and startlingly great film about the band's touring years, a lot of this previously unseen footage gives Beatles fanatics and novices a lot of cool stuff to look at.
Howard's trick here is to offer a fresh perspective on the most scrutinized rock band ever. More than crowdsourcing audience tape of varying quality, this film offers such an intimate perspective of the band's frenetic four-year run between 1962 and 1966 that viewers feel all of the joy, exhaustion and irritation the Beatles experienced in their initial ascent as the world's most iconic band.
It's partially informed by fresh interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and archival commentary by John Lennon and George Harrison, who give the documentary its narrative spine. But often, it's other voices that teach us something new.
Celebs like Sigourney Weaver and Whoopi Goldberg describe seeing them live at the Hollywood Bowl and Shea Stadium, respectively; Weaver is actually captured on film, as a teenager, swooning over the four men. The Beatles have famously said they couldn't hear each other over their screaming fans at venues like Candlestick Park or Shea. It's no wonder; the film reveals that at Shea, they were simply plugged into the baseball park's public address system. With no monitors! In retrospect, it's just nuts.
For Goldberg, Shea still stands as one of the first and only times racial lines in America seemed to vanish for her, as a black woman; everyone in attendance seemed to be at one with each other in their exuberance for the band. Indeed, the Beatles boldly and unprecedentedly insisted, contractually, that all of their shows take place in de-segregated venues, which seems remarkable given how volatile the American South and the country as a whole was at the time.
The zeitgeist offers quite a backdrop, as the Beatles arrived in America months after the Kennedy assassination, just as youth culture and resistance were rising in the looming face of Vietnam. The '60s wrought some astoundingly progressive cultural artefacts given the intense pushback from caught off-guard conservatives with itchy trigger fingers.
Meanwhile, this goofy, hardworking Liverpool band was innovating like mad in the studio (their minders, Brian Epstein and George Martin, prescribed a formula begging one new single every three months and one new album every six months), making silly motion pictures (A Hard Day's Night, Help!) and trying to function normally in a mad, mad world with only three months off (in early 1966) in four manic years.
Ron Howard gets to all of this and more in one of the most essential rock films ever. It's an inspiring film that might compel other filmmakers to make similar crowd-sourcing pleas to the general public to see what they get, as that aspect and the testimonials of others makes it something of a "people's history." By pouring time, effort and heart into his project, Howard has revealed something new about the overstudied Beatles. Eight Days a Week is a milestone, capturing a band and a moment in time that was unspeakably magical and endlessly fascinating.