A Review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years
A film by Ron Howard (yes that Ron Howard)
Part One: Mania Begins!
This documentary covers the Beatles during their Mania Years (March 1963 through August 1966) focusing primarily on their live performances and then their album recording sessions.
With only a few exceptions, the rest of the Beatle mythology during that time is ignored.
This is fine. As the title suggests, this is about their live shows. If you want a clip of John Lennon reading from “In His Own Write”, however, you had best look elsewhere.
Not that there was that much to leave out: during that time the band’s touring and recording sessions were marathons – it would have drained any mortal human beings. Their time “mach schau”-ing in Hamburg during the Early Years not only improved their musicality (as is frequently pointed out), but their stamina. 25 shows in 30 days while touring America? Grueling? You bet, but at least they are able to sleep at night. In beds. Separately.
The two big documentaries of the Fabs: “the Compleat Beatles” and “Beatles Anthology” encompass the members’ and their entourage’s lives up until 1970. This film has a much narrower focus. Only “the Beatles: The First US Visit” has a more narrow focus – their 1964 US tour. But that was a BBC documentary meant for television, not a feature film.
Most narrative films focus on the Early Years, of which little is really known and there are only vague photographs and fewer recordings extant: the band’s childhood, their formation and early days as a band. Movies such as the excellent “Backbeat” from 1994 and “Nowhere Boy” from 2009 are examples.
More rare are films of the Studio Years or the Solo Years showing the Beatles’ break-up and solo output. 1985’s “John & Yoko: A Love Story”, 2000’s “Two of Us” (although the creators state at the film’s outset that it is entirely fictional) and 2010’s “Lennon Naked” for instance.
And nothing more clearly shows the break-up of the band than “Let It Be”.
But this movie shows us neither the beginning nor the end, but the glorious middle, when Beatlemania was in full flower. For a fun fictional account, find the 1978 Roger Zemeckis movie “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
The film as a whole shows the mania’s rise and fall. The movie opens with songs from their 1963 show in Manchester – the clips’ vivid color and sound are a wonder! Why isn’t the entire set released on DVD yet? Or has it been?
There is no narration for the film – no Malcom McDowell from “the Compleat Beatles”. It is told to us by the Fab Four themselves and their entourage ala “Beatles Anthology”. Current interviews with Paul and Ringo are interspersed with clips from John and George, as well as Beatle insider/roadie Neil Aspinall – who was with them from the beginning – and their film director Richard Lester. Most of George’s comments were culled from “Anthology” while John’s were taken from various lengthy interviews during the 1970s (Mike Douglas, Tom Snyder, Dick Cavett, etc.).
Note to Hulu: there were a few mistakes in your subtitles. You told us George was speaking when it was John. When asked about the fan reaction, John did NOT say, “the mob was incredible”, he said, “amazing, incredible”
The movie is chronological with only a few interludes taking us further back in time.
One such interlude starts about 4 minutes into the film for a three-and-a-half minute primer on the Early Years. But it was a very quick statement by John Lennon on bringing in Paul and then George and playing in Hamburg – but even here the focus is on the live performances as a upcoming band. Not of growing up in war-torn Liverpool. This means there is no mention of Pete Best, Alan Williams, Cynthia Powell or even Stuart Sutcliffe.
There is a surprisingly tender moment six minutes in – Paul talks about their first session with Ringo as drummer. His eyes mist up and he chokes back a tear. I’ve never seen him so emotional when discussing the Beatles …
After that the movie starts in earnest. It shows us the release of “Please Please Me” and then it’s on to the live shows!
One fun clip was of football fans in 1963 Liverpool singing “She Loves You” in unison. Young men bellow at full throttle whilst old men (wearing hats) are jostled as they keep smiling … but they don’t sing along.
There are the mandatory archival interviews with young people (“I love them!”) and the older generation (“They make an awful row!”).
The live music is real. No studio tracks with an audience dubbed in – as far as I can tell. The clips we watch may not be from the venue the soundtrack was recording, but the editors did an excellent job of splicing it together. Only on occasion does the mouth not match the soundtrack. In some spots, it is obvious the film is slowed down so the soundtrack can keep up, but that is forgivable.
And it is fun after all these years to still be able to see footage I have never seen before! Most notably the European concerts.
More next time …
Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles” available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!
Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry