8 Days A Week – The Touring Years.
I sat through most of this documentary with a broad smile on my face, and then towards the end, as the film charted the Beatles’ disillusionment with touring, the smile was replaced, I’d say, with a wistful look in acknowledgment of the band’s lost innocence.
I’m in my mid 50’s, not old enough to have felt the full blast of early Beatlemania, but enough to have been singed by the fab four’s afterburners. This Ron Howard film, composed of stills, early footage, archival and modern interviews, takes you back to a pre-internet time when through word of mouth and traditional media means, the world was caught up in a wonderful surging wave of adulation over four young men from Liverpool.
The live shows are here, from early appearances at the Cavern in Liverpool, the ABC arena in Manchester, to Shea Stadium in New York, and right through to the final live show on a London rooftop. And, just as importantly, the film is packed with the faces of fans. Young people (girls mostly) scream hysterically, pass out, hound and chase the band, and flock in their tens of thousands to see the group. Yes, New Zealand features here among many other countries where The Beatles toured.
The film doesn’t set out to be a serious examination of the Beatles’ fame and success, but it does offer an insight into what happened on the road, and, what’s more, behind the scenes while they were on the road. Aside from concert footage, we see them in buses and planes, media conferences and recording studios. The Beatles themselves tell their own story, with new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. What emerges is a picture of four mates who rode the wave and enjoyed it as much as possible, mostly having the time of their lives and mostly not taking themselves too seriously, which is undoubtedly a key reason behind their appeal. The Beatles are shown to be happy go lucky but rarely silly. Their humour is often sharp, sometimes so sharp the person at the receiving end doesn’t realise it, as memorably illustrated by John Lennon’s reply to an American reporter asking who he was.
The film follows the band’s progress chronologically, and we are reminded in graphics of their phenomenal records sales as years are ticked off. One nice stylistic touch to the storytelling is the animating of cigarette smoke in several photos of band members.
The story is well supported by an array of observers, notably American broadcaster Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their U.S. tours. The likes of Elvis Costello and Eddie Izzard offer comment, and, intriguingly and tellingly, comedian Whoopi Goldberg, whose Beatles tales I found the most penetrating. And a mention too for actress Sigourney Weaver, and for whoever found footage of her as a young woman in the audience at a Beatles show.
I’m not sure how much of the film will be new to devoted Beatles fans. One chapter which has been given publicity is the band’s decision not to play in front of a segregated audience in Florida in the early 1960’s. But even if the facts of the story are well known to you, the documentary brings together various parts of what Beatlemania and puts it together in such an entertaining way it doesn’t really matter. If nothing else, it’s a wonderful reminder of what once was.
The documentary proper is followed by a 30 minute edit of their famous Shea Stadium show, where the crowd was so loud Ringo said he could barely hear the guitars playing in front of him.If you have even a passing interest in the Beatles or even in the early years of pop music, see this film while you can, or watch it later on blu-ray/dvd release.