It’s probably impossible for any film or documentary that covers The Beatles to ever be disappointing. It’s also challenging for any to shed light on an interesting aspect of the band that may not have been covered before. Director Ron Howard opts to focus this project on a particularly hectic and whirlwind time in the lives of the band, as the name suggests, their touring years. Using a combination of previously unseen still photographs, and archival footage, as well as audio recordings. Howard has put together a condensed yet comprehensive look at the career of The Beatles, and the resulting phenomenon that was Beatlemania.
The film opts to rush through the band’s early days which may be a little disappointing for some. Seeing some of those old photos of them dressed in black leather jackets, shirts and jeans rocking The Cavern Club in Liverpool reminds you that they were young lads just starting out. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and later on Ringo Starr became The Beatles. But their destiny had them set on a different trajectory once manager Brian Epstein found them. The band’s collective ambition and Epstein’s business sensibilities soon had them all over the British and European airwaves. But as Paul McCartney notes in one talking head interview moment, they were intent on conquering America but simultaneously terrified of failure. They needn’t have worried though, because as Howard’s film shows, America was ready and waiting for them.
The core of the film is taken up by the crucial 4 years from 1963 to 1966 when the band went from England to Europe, to America and then all around the world playing to audiences. It focuses on their live performances, gifting us with some wonderful concert and television appearance footage. And of course in amongst their performances, the hysteria and madness of Beatlemania, with all the screaming, crying and fainting girls. As well as the ravenous press and media intent on trying to get a piece of the band or trip them up. Their youth, their “long” hair and cool coordinated suit-wearing look but most of all their fun and whimsical music was exactly what the world needed at that time.
They became an unstoppable force, playing show after show that grew exponentially in size at each new location. One comment is even made that speaker company Vox had to build them new rigs just so that their music could be heard in their stadium shows over the screams. Not to mention putting into context that this was back in 60’s, well before the advent of the internet and social media and the technology we have today for live music and concert production. Yet as we reach the tail end of that 1966 period, the strain on the band is becoming apparent. After some PR disasters with claims of snubbing the Indonesian Royal Family, or performing in the sacred Budokan in Japan (reserved for Japanese warrior fighting, not live music concerts) and Lennon’s infamous “bigger than Jesus” gaffe it all took its toll. Soon after that came the band’s unanimous decision to quit touring. Lennon remarks that all they ever wanted to do was make music, so that’s what they did. Going on to release a number of successful records after, including the worldwide number 1 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Dispersed in amongst the footage and photos though is some interesting talking heads interviews. Howard manages to insert clips of Lennon and Harrison as well as current interviews with McCartney and Starr as they talk about their time together as a band. It’s obvious that their unity was one of the things that kept them going, and kept them from falling apart during all the insanity. But what’s also interesting is hearing stories from people like Whoopi Goldberg who felt that during a time of segregation she “could be friends with them” or Elvis Costello who so articulately describes their progressive shift in musical sound and how as a fan it came as a surprise but also inspiring. And Eddie Izzard commenting on their press conferences and how they were quintessentially “cheeky” and able to play up to the media which helped their image.
The strength of this film is that it combines both the nostalgia and love that fans (be they celebrity or not) have for The Beatles, along with footage that makes you feel like you are there. For those of us who never got to witness the band perform live it’s wonderful to have the footage restored and remastered. Howard also has some innovative ways in which he uses the behind the scenes studio photos making them into moving pictures as they are combined with excerpts of studio recordings that give us an insight into what it was like being inside Abbey Road Studios whilst the brilliant Sir George Martin was laying down tracks. Looking back on all of it now, there has never been anybody or anything that came after that were as earth-shatteringly successful or that you could call true pioneers. Long live The Beatles.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 138 minutes
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years is in theatres now for a limited one week run.