Director: Ron Howard
Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 15th
The story of the touring years of The Beatles is a familiar one. Hamburg, The Cavern Club, number one hits, Beatlemania takes over the world, hordes of screaming teenagers follow them wherever they go, appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, more screaming fans, stadium tours, growing disillusionment with live performances, Rubber Soul, being bigger than Jesus, Revolver, a final U.S. tour and a retreat to the studio. I know what you are probably thinking “Why, I know all that, a documentary couldn’t possibly show me anything new”. Well, you got some attitude, mister.
Besides, director Ron Howard and his producers have spent years getting rare footage, much of which was shot by fans at the shows, to tell you everything you already know and less. Despite featuring new interviews with the surviving Beatles, Paul McCarthy and Ringo Starr, Howard’s documentary, the awkwardly titled The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, offers very little beyond the established facts that would be already known to even the most casual of Beatles fan.
In fact the documentary actually skips over a lot of the detail, particularly in their pre-Beatlemania days. While McCarthy says that the band where not an overnight sensation like everyone thought, that they had spent years of hard work to get where they are. The documentary breezes over this period, to the point that it neglects to mention either former members Pete Best or Stuart Sutcliffe. Also absent from the film are mentions of the death of their manager Brian Epstein or anything that could be perceived as being less than savoury
Of course it would always be difficult to not to tread over familiar lines when it comes to The Beatles, after all this is a band that completely changed popular culture forever. The approach that Howard takes to the material is at times rather strange. It mixes between archive footage and talking head interviews, and while some of the interviews are interesting, journalist Larry Kane who travelled with the band on some of their U.S. tours offers a viewpoint of behind the scenes from a outsider point of view, others seem randomly chosen, as if the were picked by flicking through Howard’s address book. Have you ever spent sleepless nights wondering what Whoopi Goldberg thinks about The Beatles, well worry no more as Ron Howard makes your weirdly specific wish come true.
The only moment when the film delves deeper into The Beatles is when it addresses the issue of civil rights. I had no idea about The Beatles touring contract for the U.S., which specified that they would not place in any venue that would segregate their audience. This in turn caused a venue in Jacksonville, Florida to desegregate for the concert, an action that is detailed by historian Kitty Oliver as a significant moment in her life; it being the first time she had social contact with the white population.
For all that it lacks in depth it certainly makes up for it through its use of archive footage. Taking from various sources, both from the news media reports and interviews and from fan footage, this material showcases the energy of the period. Along with footage of overwhelmed fans talking to reporters outside their concerts, one memorable moment is when a group of teenage girls with very thick Brooklyn accents talk about how much they love Ringo’s nose or how George has the best eyelashes, we also get some behind the scenes footage of group mugging for the camera and their delight of hearing their songs on a small transmitter radio. Also included are some audio outtakes of the recording sessions for Rubber Soul, adding an insight on where they saw their creative ambitions laid and another reason on why the retreated from the stage.
Then of course there is music, and perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of it is the treatment of the audio of the live performances. While it is well know that audience screams drown out the sound, for the film Giles Martin, son of the band’s long-time producer George, has re-mastered the live recordings offering a more clearer idea of what exactly The Beatles sounded like in their live performances which is real treat.
While this new Beatles documentary doesn’t go beyond the band’s Wikipedia page in terms of insight, it moves along at fine enough a pace to make it a rather enjoyable experience. But when all is said and done outside of a few glimpses it does have the feel of a missed opportunity. Still, decent tunes though.