One of the prospects that drew director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) to this famous story was the opportunity to give a new generation a glimpse at what happened to launch this extraordinary phenomenon. The baby boomers grew up with The Beatles and their children perhaps only know them vicariously through their parents. As the decades have passed The Beatles have remain immensely popular, even though many of the details of their story have become blurred. We may assume that all Beatles’ fans know the macro-facts about the group. The truth is, however, only a small fraction are familiar with the ins and outs of their narrative, and of course, each new generation learns about The Beatles first and foremost from their music. So, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – the Touring Years is a chance to reintroduce a seminal moment in the history of culture, and to use the distance of time to give us the chance to think about “the how and the why” this happened as it did.
While the movie has a lot of fascinating new material and research, first and foremost it is a picture for those who were “not there”, especially the millennials. After their North American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, The Beatles transfixed the US and the tremors were felt worldwide. They transformed music and pop culture forever with their records and television appearances. The Beatles’ extraordinary musicianship and charisma also made them one of the greatest live bands of all time.
In The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, Howard explores the history of the group through the lens of their concert performances. He moves from their early days playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg to their unprecedented world tours in packed stadia around the world, from New York to Melbourne to Tokyo.
The first feature-length documentary authorised by The Beatles since the band’s breakup in 1970, Eight Days a Week features rare archival footage of concerts and interviews. There are also new interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and a number of prominent observers. The film captures the exhilaration of The Beatles’ phenomenal rise to fame as well as the toll it eventually took on the band members, prompting them to stop touring altogether in August 1966. Thereafter, they devoted their prodigious musical energy to a series of groundbreaking studio recordings.
Frenetic … that’s the first word I can think of when reflecting upon this detailed and dense documentary. There is so much information, footage and stills crammed in to 106 minutes (plus the concert footage that follows) that at times it feels like too much (sensory overload). Of course, in that first 106 minutes you also have plenty of footage of their performances and the crowd reactions. What strikes you is just how innocent and totally blown away by the adulation John, Paul, George and Ringo were in those early days. There was incessant screaming, masses and masses of people turning out the world over just to get a glimpse of them and effusive praise.
All the while The Beatles – erudite youngsters, a tight-knit group, individually and collectively humorous – were struggling to make sense of the madness. The demands on their time were massive and unfortunately, but understandably, the sheer weight of expectation had an impact, so much so that they were no longer enjoying their gigs. There was definitely a dark side to fame and fortune, which is explored. The doco unfolds sequentially, but the tail end appears to be too quick, given the detail of the earlier years.
Once the touring stopped there was only one final rooftop appearance, which is captured … but then there was the success of the latter period of The Beatles. I understand the name of this documentary is The Touring Years, but I still felt more weight needed to be given to the final albums, given their importance. Still, Ron Howard presents an important insight into the phenomenon that was The Beatles. Rated M, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Ron Howard
Release Date: 15 September 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television