DIR/WRI: Ron Howard • WRI: Mark Monroe • PRO: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Paul McCartney, Scott Pascucci, Nigel Sinclair • DOP: Michael Wood • ED: Paul Crowder • MUS: Ric Markmann, Dan Pinnella, Chris Wagner • CAST: Ringo Starr, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney
We’ve all seen it, grainy black and white footage of four mop top youngsters playing rock ‘n’ roll music in Liverpool clubs, cut to modern day interview footage of Paul McCartney saying something like, “…. we were just four lads playin’ some tunes, we didn’t know how big we’d become…” Cue the legions of screaming fans as the Liverpool lads charm the pants off Ed Sullivan etc etc.
Do we really need another Beatles documentary? Is there still more to be said about the fab four?
Even a Beatles fanatic like myself had those questions before seeing Ron Howard’s latest documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.
The documentary follows The Beatles from the early 1960s, playing small gigs in the cavern in Liverpool, through the five year period they swept the globe in a chaotic world tour. The four young men made history when they took the world by storm while playing concerts, recording albums and making films during this time.
In the film we are shown rare photos, restored footage and audio from Beatles concerts from around the world. Through current and stock interviews with The Beatles and many other famous faces, we are taken through the rise of Beatlemania and the band’s eventual disillusionment with touring. The Beatles were a band for roughly 10 years and only toured for five years from 1962 -1966, this film chronicles those five years. It has been said that the fact that their music couldn’t be heard over the legions of screaming fans through the low quality sound systems they played through was one of the reasons they stopped playing live and became a recording band for the remainder of their career.
If you don’t know who The Beatles are you need to turn off your computer and get yourself some Help, the 1965 Album by The Beatles that is. Operating under the assumption that those who raised you did their part in your musical education by introducing you to The Beatles, we may continue with the review.
The Beatles are the most important band in history, period. This documentary makes it feel as though they were the ONLY band in history! The film attempts to show the extent of their influence through the variety of interviewees from authors, actors, composers, musicians and filmmakers. The personal and global impact The Beatles made is expressed through stories from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Richard Curtis, Elvis Costello and even Sigourney Weaver who appears in the audience at The Beatles Hollywood Bowl concert in 1965.
Ron Howard reportedly sifted through hours of fan footage and stock footage from Apple Corps archive to get the material he needed for this film and the results are undoubtedly the best cinematic experience of Beatles performances yet. Watching The Beatles on the big screen play classics like “I Saw Her Standing There”, “She Loves You” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is the closest anyone from this generation will ever get to experiencing the original line up live unless they do one of those hologram tours and let’s face it, those are unnerving at best. Though at times the doc feels like a TV music documentary, it should be seen on a big screen with loud speakers for it’s music performances alone. I wanted the projectionist to turn it up when The Beatles were rocking their Shirelles cover “Boys” live with Ringo singing.
What is really unique about this picture though, is how the story of the Beatles’ invasion of the states is told alongside the unfolding history of America. At one point journalist Larry Kane, who toured with the band, mentions that Muhammed Ali was training near the studio, JFK had just been shot, troops were shipping off to Vietnam and The Beatles were touring the States. What a time to live through!! Ron Howard puts the viewer into that time period and shows how Paul, John, George and Ringo interacted with issues of racial segregation when they caused a stir by confidently declaring they would not play Jacksonville if the concert was whites only.
The film features illuminating vignettes on other characters in The Beatles-verse, such as manager Brian Epstein, responsible for not only booking the gigs but also the look and presentation of the band; the suits, the hair, the brand. It also features a brief look into their first feature film A Hard Days Night. The film would inspire many filmmakers over the years such as George Lucas and Ron Howard and meant that even when concert tickets were selling out fast, anybody could buy a ticket to see The Beatles in their local cinema.
The documentary features fantastic intimate footage of the group through their touring years proving that people were just as obsessed with recording things in the ’60s as they are now and maybe all of that dodgy mobile phone concert footage will appear in documentaries about bands 50 years from now. Music plays a huge part here and the soundtrack features an eclectic mix of fan favourites like She Loves You and more obscure tracks like I Need You and I’ll Cry Instead.
Let’s be honest, when you’ve got The Beatles as your subject it’s got to be pretty hard to get that wrong. They were the complete package, charismatic, musical, funny, full of energy and where they went, excitement, drama and chaos ensued. That being said, with the sprawling legacy that is The Beatles, for a super fan like Howard, it must have been a challenge to do this chapter justice. Though fans of Arrested Development might expect his narration, Ron Howard remains silent through this journey and lets The Beatles speak for themselves. Here Howard has expertly condensed the period of The Beatles’ touring years into this nice time capsule-like package.
Speaking as a fan who has heard all of the music, seen the films and the documentaries, I can honestly say this was a well told story, very enjoyable, I learned things about The Beatles I never knew and saw footage I had never seen before. I would highly recommend this film for Beatles aficionado’s and rookies alike. In the future they will show this film in schools to fast track children’s musical education and when aliens land on earth and they ask “Who are the ones you call Beatles?” They will be shown this documentary.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years is released 16th September 2016