A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years
A film by Ron Howard
Part Two: 1964 Mania, American Style
Read Part one here.
“Eight Days a Week” shows us (and proves to us) the hectic pace set by the Beatles from 1963 through 1966. During this time they toured constantly, stopping only to record singles and albums.
Other documentaries focus on the press constantly asking about their long hair (particularly in the US), but the most frequently asked questions (as shown in this film) were “How long do you think you will last?” and “What will you do when the bubble bursts?”
Because of the fear of the bubble bursting, the Beatles were not only put on a grueling tour schedule, but an equally grueling recording schedule –a new single every three months and a new album every six months. Milk it, baby, milk it!
November 22nd, 1963 was the day US President John F Kennedy was assassinated, but also the day the Beatles’ second album, “With the Beatles” was released. The movie shows each album and it’s time at #1 on the British charts. These are placed chronologically along with the performance clips.
A British radio reporter tells us about the Kennedy assassination and Paul tells us the bands reaction. None, well, not much. Diplomatically, he says they were too young to comprehend what had happened and they were too busy touring to let it really sink in.
At that point, touring America is discussed. Paul tells us they did not want to go to America until they had a #1 record. They did not want to go to America, flop, and then come home with their tails between their legs.
During clips of their shows in Paris, we learn “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was #1 in America. While the song plays in the soundtrack, we watch photos of the Fabs clowning around in their Paris hotel room.
There is much Beatle lore left out of this movie – its focus is on live performances and their records. The movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” were shown in clips, but only as it related to their recording and performing schedules.
There is no mention of, for example, John’s two books, their personal lives (two were married and two had children during this period) or their introduction to marijuana and LSD.
If you blink you will miss the one shot of Jimmy Nichols with the band. When Ringo had tonsillitis, Jimmy Nichols replaced him in shows in Denmark and elsewhere.
Ringo was back by the time the Fabs toured Australia to young people in the grip of a Beatlemania perhaps even larger than the American version!
During this time they were guests (and sometimes hosts) in many television shows all through Europe. Although the movie uses some of the interviews from the various television programs, it does not use the performances. Perhaps because of copyright issues; but it cements that the heart of the movie is live performances, not studio performances.
So no television performances.
With one exception.
A documentary set during the time of Beatlemania can skip Stuart Sutcliff and Yoko Ono; a documentary focusing on live performances can skip Lennon’s books of poetry and Jane Asher; but no Beatle documentary – even ones that are not Ameri-centric – can skip “the Ed Sullivan Show”.
The viewership was mentioned (half of the population of the United States watched) and bits of trivia (no reported crime in New York that evening), but the film focused on the performance itself rather than its impact.
That being said, the film does a fine job showing America in the total grip of Beatlemania with shots of fans at airports and hotels with newsreels and at-the-time interviews with the Fabs and the fans.
I finally have a complaint about the film: the first US press conference as well as footage of the Washington DC concert were colorized. Poorly so. Why? Why didn’t you colorize “Ed Sullivan” and “Hard Day’s Night”, too? Showing black-and-white footage won’t befuddle us or lose our attention. Treat us like adults, please? Ron Howard, you of all people should know … why don’t you colorize the black-and-white episodes of a certain show set in Mayberry, instead? Because you don’t have to. They are both fine as is. Leave them alone.
The only other complaint of the film? Another point that shows the producers do not have much faith in their viewers: unnecessary false audio. Documentaries showing silent films (particularly World War I docs) are bad about this too. In “8 Days a Week” it shows home movies of the Beatles swimming in a pool. We hear a “splash” at the appropriate time, but no other ambient noise. At other times the fans’ individual screams are dubbed in. At one point a girl screams Ringo’s name. It’s easy to lip-read. Yet the film-makers dub a youngster shouting “Ringo” 52 years after that clip was made. At no point while watching clips of girls screaming during Beatle concerts did I ever say, “What did she say? What’s wrong with the sound?” Again, please treat us like adults.
So, “Ed Sullivan” aside, no TV shows. During the US publicity tour, the film interludes with a brief biography of Brian Epstein and how he met the Beatles and became their manager. Bare bones – a youngster asked for a copy of their record in Eppy’s record shop, his curiosity made him seek the band out. He signed them on as clients. Back to the tour …
The Fabs move to Washington DC and then Miami (no concert footage) and back to the UK to film “A Hard Day’s Night”.
A little time is spent showing clips and some background on the film, but then back to the music and the grinding tour schedule; including an August tour of the US.
Which is a pity: Lennon didn’t like the film in retrospect. After two days following the band, the writers developed personalities for the Fabs that are still unshakeable – the smart one, the cute one, the quiet one, the lovable one.
However, one of the best lines from “A Hard Day’s Night” captures the essence of the Beatles on tour. “… so far I’ve been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room,” says Paul’s film-grandfather. They should have used that – sums up their touring schedule perfectly!
Something I have not heard mentioned in Beatle movies or documentaries: the controversy over segregating the Gator Bowl! There were plenty of clips of the Fabs at the time decrying segregation – “Why treat other people like animals?” “We refuse to play a segregated hall”. How much controversy did this cause in the summer of 1964? The kerfuffle over Lennon’s Jesus quip in 1966 is brought up in nearly every documentary (this one, too), but surely bigots protested their comments on segregation, too!
And the movie probably gives the Fabs a bit too much credit on this point. The Gator Bowl may have been desegregated during their show, but afterward…? And segregation certainly did not end in the south due to their American Tour of 1964; more hearty seed had already been planted and would take root in the years to come.
Moving on to 1965 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