The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years (2016) – Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: N/A
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr & George Harrison
Music: The Beatles
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: September 15th 2016

It kinda feels redundant to give an introduction to a movie about the “The Beatles”. The rock band formed in England in 1960 by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best (the latter of whom was replaced by Ringo Starr in 1962) felt like they embodied the 60s, which was appropriate seeing as though the group split up upon the dawn of a new decade.

While much has been said about their origins and their years recording in the Abbey Road studios, there is a middle chapter that isn’t as often discussed in conversation, which is ironic since it’s easily when the fab four were at their most visible and that’s during their extensive concert tours where they travelled the world. Directed by Ron Howard and restoring incredibly rare archive footage of The Beatles’ live performances into 4K, we have ‘The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years‘…which is a rather excessive title. But with The Beatles being such a prolific band, does this musical documentary offer any new insight into the band or is this able to appeal to even hardcore, completist fans?
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It’s 1962 and four young boys from Liverpool; John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, are making a name for themselves performing at the Cavern Club. However, the game changes when their song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” gets to No. 1 in the United States of America, prompting the four (along with manager Brian Epstein) to perform there, which starts a nearly non-stop, four-year long tour across the world and changing the face of popular culture from 1962-1966.

It’s hard to know where to start with a review of ‘The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years‘ (other than stating that the movie will now be referred to as ‘Eight Days A Week‘ for…brevity’s sake) because it does start in medias res in regards to the career of the Beatles as a group-act. We’re two years into the group’s life, Ringo Starr has just joined and they’ve just completed their first LP “Please Please Me” which went on to spend 30 weeks at No. 1 only to be replaced by…their second LP. Then once we’ve gone over the titular touring years, the movie picks up 4 years later for their iconic rooftop concert on top of Apple Corps before ending rather abruptly. This gives the film no real starting point resulting in some strange introductions to figures such as their manager Brian Epstein who is absent from the documentary for about 20 minutes before everyone just starts talking about him out of nowhere. It does feel quite disjointed.
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That having been said, ‘Eight Days A Week‘ is ultimately a resounding success as a documentary due to the resources put into it, from a very diverse and ecleptic set of interviewees including Whoopi Goldberg who talks about how their differences in race had no bearing on their mass-appeal…though she starts a story talking about how her mother managed to get tickets to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium but the film never shows her elaborating on the experience despite having a first-hand account of the event the documentary is actually about. But it’s interesting that the documentary interviews comedians like Eddie Izzard who are able to analyse the playful attitudes of the four band members, how they’d joke around and how they cemented themselves into the hearts and minds of the world population.

Because the 1960s was the perfect decade for these four to dominate the landscape. The Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War gave people a degree of uncertainty and in times like that they found solace in the art that’s developing around them. The movie goes into detail about how the band would not perform in the U.S. at venues which enforced racial segregation. The unifying aspect of the Beatles music, as well as the ever developing technology of television and radio meant that “Beatlemania” was able to take shape; a massive fan-built movement that has not been seen since. This is exemplified in the fascinating concert footage where you can barely hear the actual music being played because the constant, never-ending screaming from the (mostly) female fans would drown them out.
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It’s worth remembering that after World War 2, most the world celebrated…urm…the ol’ fashioned way. Resulting in a massive influx of teenagers by the time the 1960s rolled around and it was at this baby-booming time that the Beatles came to prominence and the reason for their insanely large, global fanbase. But due to the non-stop nature of the touring, the constant song-writing and the inability to even hear themselves perform (Ringo was literally guessing where they were in the song in order to try and drum along), the touring took its toll on the four. One observation from the restored concert footage is that you can tell the bands’ state of mind based on how enthusiastically Ringo performs and at the Budokan Hall in Japan in June 1966, the whole band had just completely lost their enthusiasm.

A lot of this was down to the fact that the music industry was simply not prepared for doing tours like this. While they’re a staple of bands and artists nowadays, in the 1960s The Beatles paved the way and set the groundwork for how tours should be managed and handled. Whether it’s the venue (the Beatles could not perform at concert halls because the demand was so high that they had to perform in stadiums which were not designed for carrying music), security, media-management and multi-tasking by recording more albums and filming movies (‘A Hard Day’s Night‘ and ‘Help!‘ were filmed during their touring years and are briefly touched on in the documentary) whilst also routinely performing to sell-out crowds.
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It’s interesting to note that the events that seem to have ended the touring years was the interview John Lennon gave to the London Evening Standard in 1966 commenting that they were “more popular than Jesus”. The statement garnered no reaction in the U.K. but in the highly Christian country that is the United States of America it led to mass outrage, including but not limited to the public burning of Beatles memorabilia and death threats. There’s a lot of archive footage in ‘Eight Days A Week‘ demonstrating the world’s reaction to the ever-growing “Beatlemania” and it’s amazing just how many people thought this band were going to be the downfall of society.

It truly is a fascinating rundown over the hectic four-year period even if, like I mentioned previously, it feels like it has difficulty finding its footing initially and wraps up abruptly due to the end of the touring years not being the end of The Beatles’ story. Even so, a quick crash course opening as well as an explanation as to what actually motivated their final rooftop performance feel like rather important elements that should have been added, even if the film excels where it counts the most and that’s putting modern day audiences into the heart of “Beatlemania”.
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And with that let’s talk about how gorgeous the restored concert footage is. Those who got the chance to watch ‘Eight Days A Week‘ on the big-screen had a massive treat as old footage is available to watch in decent quality for the first time. Not only that, but some of it has been given a 4K restoration (as well as remastered sound) and it’s great to be able to watch colour footage of The Beatles in such great, vibrant quality. Just to clarify, the pictures in this review were taken from the film’s UK trailer and the footage in the actual movie itself is significantly better.

There’s a huge amount of material shown in ‘Eight Days A Week‘ from interviews (including ones with John Lennon and George Harrison while they were still alive), radio broadcasts, behind-the-scenes photographs, press conferences and even the most hardcore fan of The Beatles will find something new here that they’ve not seen before. And, let’s not forget, some of the greatest music of all time underscoring the entire production.
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The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years‘ may suffer from being a middle-chapter in what is a lengthy and culturally redefining era for the music industry and nay-sayers of The Beatles likely won’t get much out of it, but it’s still a fascinating insight into the numerous factors that allowed “Beatlemania” to happen. If you’re a fan of the history of music, it’s essential viewing as it details the origins of touring rock bands as well as the cultural changes they can bring and, of course, the use of restored 4K concert footage of The Beatles is a selling-point in and of itself. It doesn’t feel like a complete package, but as a lifelong fan of the fab four, this documentary gets all my loving.

I give ‘The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Year‘ 4 stars out of 5.

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Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 26th Jan 17

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