Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review - 'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years'

It has been said - I'm sure - that the last thing we need is another Beatles documentary.  Ron Howard's new movie looking at the concert-tour era of the Beatles' career blows that nonsense out of the water.
Eight Days a Week isn't just one of the best movie about the Beatles ever made - it's the first and only movie to focus on their years as a live band and how the excitement they generated was key to spreading Beatlemania from Britain to America and the world beyond.  New insights from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and archival reminiscences from John Lennon and George Harrison  illustrate how thrilling it was for the band to play live in their early days and invigorating it was to take the world by storm.
As Eight Days a Week progresses into 1965 and 1966, the ennui of touring shows as the Beatles were continuing to advance musically in the recording studio.  Their concerts - rare footage of which offers some astonishing samples of how pervasive and engrossing Beatlemania was - evolved from exciting musical performances to what Lennon called "tribal rituals"; indeed, some of the live music included here is ragged and sloppy.  Eight Days a Week also puts the viewer in the center of the action, with photos and dizzying footage of the group taking the stage, traveling long distances on planes, and dealing with the press.  There are some eye-opening anecdotes, too, like when the Beatles forced racial integration of the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville as a condition for performing there.   Philadelphia TV newsman Larry Kane, one of the many figures interviewed for the movie, traveled with the Beatles and covered them on their 1964 North American tour for the Miami radio station he was working for at the time; his specific memories and documentation of his time with the group are especially revealing.  Even the familiar stories of the Beatles' time on the road, particularly the controversy over John Lennon's statement of the Beatles becoming more popular than Jesus, are seen from a fresh perspective and give a picture of how grueling the road was for the group.  (Also worthy are comments from fans and observers such as Elvis Costello, Whoopi Goldberg, and Malcolm Gladwell.)
Fifty years after their last stadium concert at San Francisco, Eight Days a Week makes clear why the Beatles had to end their concert career, and how rock and roll benefited from their decision to do so; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road couldn't have existed had they continued touring.  Howard's documentary, which ends with a clip of the Beatles in their last public performance from January 1969 on the Apple rooftop for Let It Be, ultimately succeeds in its main purpose; it brings Beatlemania as it played out in the mid-sixties back to life.  You had to be there, but if you weren't, this is the best (and only) way to experience it. 
(Note: During its theatrical run, Eight Days a Week is followed by a remastered, re-edited version of the film of Beatles' 1965 Shea Stadium concert.  It's an astonishing document, showing a confident foursome playing in perfect sync and giving one of their best live shows ever, despite the primitive sound system and the screaming fans. It is more than worth the price of admission.)         

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