The Beatles: Eight Days A Week Exhibits The Fab Four’s Touring Years (FILM REVIEW)

Because Ron Howard’s movie contains a comparable mix of energy, invention and surprise, The roughly two hours it takes to watch Eight Days A Week flies by fast, much like the two minutes plus performances of the songs the Beatles were playing during The Touring Years 1962-1966. That’s relatively speaking of course, but the fact is the filmmaker applies a musician’s touch to his cinematic work here and whether or not you discovered (and experienced first hand) the emergence of the iconic British band within the time period the movie covers, the chances are their infectious personal charm, as channeled most vividly through their live shows, will prompt a tangible rush of delight.

Howard exhibits equal parts finesse and restraint in covering the entire period the Beatles performed for audiences in public. In fact, in covering the progressive sophistication of their music as expressed with a precocious intelligence on and off stage, he goes slightly outside the lines of the film’s chronology because, although his scrupulously researched footage goes all the way back to Liverpool’s Cavern Club, neither he nor his work concludes with the fateful final tour stop at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in August of 1966.

With a knowing nod to the band’s increasing absorption with the recording process from late that year onto their last albums under the aegis of Sir George Martin, the final shots of the Beatles in performance are taken from the rooftop of their office building in January of 1969. While this footage is famous on its own terms, particularly as it was included in the Beatles Anthology (as well as the ill-fated Let It Be film), in the context of Eight Days A Week, its inclusion is like the restatement of and embroidery upon, a musical motif in movie form. The knowing smiles and grins beaming from the musician’s faces, it (re)ignites what may have been only a subliminal recognition of the fundamental attraction of the Beatles: they loved the music they created—and never more so than on the stage playing it.

The good-natured pleasure in that experience permeates The Touring Years 1962-1966, but not only for the performance intervals. While the Beatles’ confidence in their work was the source of their creativity as much as the admiration it evokes (in wholly different but equally fervent forms of expression emanating from teenage girls and music scholars ), the group tempered their expectations with the realism Paul McCartney describes in one of the early interview segments that the producer/director interweaves throughout the movie. McCartney reminds of his preference to go to America only when they had a number one hit there—which happened in early 1964 while the group was in Paris just prior to their arrival in the United States in February of that year.

Ron Howard slowly but surely places the world-wide phenomenon of Beatlemania within the context of global social and political developments of the early to mid- Sixties, beginning with the assassination of JFK late in 1963. In doing so, the former TV star is almost indiscernibly ambitious with his film, but that’s because he’s so self-disciplined; he makes no attempt to make a profound statement here, but allows the unfolding of the Beatles’ career and its influence on culture to speak for itself at just such a level.

For instance, the group’s casual but firm refusal to play for segregated audiences in the American South seemed nothing but common sense for them. Yet the authority required to adopt and maintain that stance was grounded in their four-way solidarity as a band, the unity of which is unmistakable in virtually every snippet of performance footage contained in this film. Ringo Starr speaks to that dynamic in one of his interview excerpts, but there’s an even more enlightening comment offered by the only other living member of the Beatles. Sir Paul’s description of the startling sensation that arose from playing with Ringo for the first time finds him arguably as excited in the telling as the day it occurred.

Released more widely to theaters by popular demand after limited engagements just prior to premier on co-production partner Hulu, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years comes to theaters accompanied by approximately thirty minutes of content containing the Beatles entire performance segment from the film of their August 1965 appearance at Shea Stadium originally broadcast on network television but generally unavailable since. And its inclusion isn’t just a marketing masterstroke, but a brilliant piece of film presentation too: after roughly a hundred twenty minutes of storytelling around the Beatles’ performances, with quick snippets of same building suspense, this footage, even in such abbreviated form at approximately thirty minutes, serves as evidence of the ongoing fascination around these musicians for over five decades. And the overwhelming response to the premiere of the film further validates Howard’s production of the film with the consent and collaboration of the two surviving Beatles along with the families of the two deceased, John Lennon and George Harrison.

With the focus of this movie on the unadulterated joy of these four men on stage, it’s worth pointing out what Elvis Costello so sagely observes: the Beatles’ became and remained remarkably skilled instrumentalists and singers even without the benefit of technology that matched their expertise. Not only did the quartet have to play live without hearing themselves via stage monitors, but as they became the first band to play open-air stadiums, they and their audience was forced to rely on public address systems inadequate to the task of carrying their music with a clarity equal to its innovation Thanks to the expertise of the late producer Martin’s son, Giles, the sound of the Beatles is otherwise remarkably clear in this film, so makes a few seconds of comparison–plus Ringo’s laughing parody of a sports announcer– makes that particular point in no uncertain terms.

Still, it’s a point worth reiterating, particularly in watching the Beatles’ at Shea Stadium. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr seem as awestruck at the spectacle as anyone in the audience that night, but their wide-eyed disbelief translates directly into the fun they they have as they perform. Knowing they’re at the finale, Lennon and Harrison make “I’m Down” even more uproarious while the gusto of the harmony singing becomes stirring on “Help.” And then there’s the nuanced presentation of the Beatles’ well-wrought setlist ranging from the somewhat subdued waltz of “Baby In Black” to the resounding twelve-string chime of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Whether its in a theater, offering an extended run like South Burlington Vermont’s Palace 9 or when it’s released on DVD & Blu-Ray this November–announcement of which coincided with the initial showings on-line and in movie houses around mid-September–The Touring Years 1962-1966 is worth seeing more than once and not just to hit that pleasure center repeatedly (though that’s reason enough). It’s also to catch nuances such as McCartney’s eye-opening description of he and his late composing partner working together on new songs in their hotel rooms, watching late manager Brian Epstein standing off stage looking up at the pandemonium at Shea while nodding his head in response to the music or noting how John and Paul step aside as Harrison takes his guitar solos because he’s so focused on his part, he doesn’t step forward at those moments into the spotlight.

Ron Howard’s forges together many such small but telling touches and a bounty of information laced with pure excitement, all of which underlies the tale he’s telling. It’s a fusion of virtues altogether comparable (though not exactly equal) to a similar complement in the sound of the Beatles’ music. 8 Days A Week may bring a tear to the eyes of those who ‘were there,’ but it is definitely not nostalgia. It is, rather, an invaluable piece of contemporary history worth knowing about whether you’re a musiclover or not, regardless of your age.

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One Response

  1. After seeing, hearing and reading everything Beatles in my life, I thought the film was weak and really didn’t show or reveal anything new that isn’t already out there. It just seems like just a ploy for the anniversary. The on;y really good thing from the anniversary is the new digital remix of the Hollywood Bowl set produced by Giles Martin. He did an awesome job and is much more listenable.

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