I’m a big Beatles fan. I’ve probably been a fan for about twenty-five years of my life. That’s a lot of reading Beatle books, learning the songs, watching countless documentaries and more recently, finding rare interviews and other little titbits on YouTube. So as I was walking into the cinema to see Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week yesterday I was thinking – will anything about this film surprise me?
The answer is no. And a little bit of yes.
In terms of big picture Beatle story, there’s little that the average die-hard won’t already know. If you’re a newbie to the touring years like my wife was then there’s lots of things to discover. That’s not to say there’s nothing new for the likes of me. There were occasional pieces of footage that I hadn’t seen before – little clips here and there and it was the first time I’d seen their initial American press conference in colour. There is fresh material in the film (as well as new interviews with McCartney and Starr), it’s just that it doesn’t add anything new to The Beatles story. If anything, it just enhances it a little.
The tone is hagiographical. It’s one of those non-confrontational documentaries that was made with the cooperation of the two surviving Beatles and the Beatle widows – Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison. So yeah it skims over the seedier stuff. The drugs are largely ignored (marijuana gets a brief mention) and there’s always very little in these Beatles documentaries about the groupies and in particular, Paul McCartney’s status as a legendary shagger. Or as John Lennon apparently called him – a ‘sex gladiator’.
But despite these tittle-tattle omissions, I enjoyed the film immensely. It does a great job of capturing the initial excitement of Beatlemania right up until 1966 by which time the band had become jaded with the whole touring thing and the accompanying madness. Little wonder too – they must have felt like cattle at times the way they were herded back and forth between events and as a Lennon voiceover says: ‘Everyone wanted a piece of you.’
The film contains some great live footage from a variety of gigs and TV shows. And occasionally we even get to watch the full performance instead of being interrupted by a talking head after the first verse. This was a nice touch. I’m also glad I got to see this in the cinema as along with the documentary, it featured 30 minutes of freshly restored Shea Stadium footage which I don’t think will be shown on Hulu or on the DVD release.
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week is not groundbreaking stuff, but it is a bloody good watch. That applies to Beatles fans who think they’ve seen everything and to those who know nothing about them. There’s a brief mention of Pepper and the later years, but this is primarily a film about the first half of The Beatles. It’s nice that late in the film, there’s a little mention on the recording of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (off the Revolver album) which for me is the song that most represents the borderland between black and white Beatles and colour Beatles.
One last thing. Watching the facial expressions of the audience during Beatle gigs is a joy in itself. Has there ever been a band with more expressive/deranged fans than the fab four? I doubt it. God bless them all – I hope they watch this film with their kids and grandkids and show the young ‘uns that there’s more to watching a gig than just filming it on your iPhone.