Sunday, November 20, 2016
THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK--THE TOURING YEARS
This week the heavy metal rock group Metallica released their first studio album in eight years. I point this out because the Beatles recorded all of their "official" albums in about an eight year span. The prolific amount of work the Beatles did in the short time they were actually together as a group is astounding, and it is the main subject of the documentary THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK--THE TOURING YEARS, directed by Ron Howard.
If you are a major Beatles fan, almost all of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK will be very familiar. What one does get out of this film is the hectic pace the Beatles were under during the first years of Beatlemania--they recorded several albums, went on many tours throughout the world, made numerous personal appearances, and managed to film two movies as well. Considering that all four Beatles were in their early 20s--and the fact that they couldn't go anywhere without being mobbed--it's hard to believe that at least one of them didn't crack under the pressure. (The movie does show that the four Beatles bond as a group helped each of them individually deal with the various strains put on them.)
The highlight of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK is watching all the rare concert footage of the Beatles performing--there's even some film of their very last concert in 1966 at San Francisco. The most surprising fact I learned from this documentary was how primitive the Beatles tours were, even though they were the biggest music group in the world at that time. While music groups today travel with tons of equipment and a full support staff, the Beatles were literally on their own, save for a handful of roadies. They played some major stadiums, but they also held a number of gigs at what were basically the equivalent of county fairs. Surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr go out of their way to say that manager Brian Epstein took care of them, but I can't help but wonder about that, since the group seemed to be put in a number of precarious situations while on their tours.
Ron Howard keeps the pace of the film at a steady clip, and if things do get slack, a Beatles song always starts playing eventually on the soundtrack--you can't help but feel good when you hear a Beatles song. There's a number of famous faces expressing their love for the Beatles, such as Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sigourney Weaver. I can understand having famous talking heads to draw the viewer's attention--many documentaries do this now, and obviously someone like Ron Howard had easy access to them--but I really wish that Howard had included regular folks who had seen the Beatles play live.
As mentioned, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr look back on their experiences in EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, while John Lennon and George Harrison are represented by vintage interviews. It's always nice to hear from Paul and Ringo, but I kind of feel that the movie is missing something without the true input of John and George.
There's nothing very revelatory about EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, except maybe the idea that the reason the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album was so groundbreaking is that the Beatles were freed from the constraints of touring. Beatle fans will enjoy it, and it is worth seeing at least once. It's a nice documentary, but I wouldn't call it a great one.