With over 30 documentaries and fictionalised films about the Beatles, detailing the beginning, middle and fallout of the phenomena, one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the stories about the Fab Four had been told. Was Ron Howard’s love letter to the Beatles going to be a rehash of footage that we’d seen before or was the Oscar winner going to give us something new?
As the title would suggest, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years focuses on the band on tour from the years 1963 to 1966, taking us from the tiny underground grotto that is The Cavern to the 56,000 seater Shea Stadium in New York. We see the band completely taken aback by the sheer level of fame and mania and, as was the case for many bands back then, touring was the only way for the foursome to make money. The audience are shown exactly why those years were filled to bursting with tours, with the Liverpudlian quartet at one point talking about a gruelling 28 date tour taking place over a 30 day period. It is little wonder that after four years of constant touring, film making and producing a minimum of two albums a year that the boys needed a rest; and so on 29th August 1966 the band took their final bow, never to tour together as a group again.
Alongside the madness in the professional lives of the Beatles and their entourage, Howard has interspersed their tale with footage of what is going on in the rest of the world, from the death of Kennedy to the escalation of the war in Vietnam. The film touches upon the Beatles involvement in many of the political movements going on at the time and how they were perceived by the international press and older generation. The fallout of the infamous “bigger than Jesus” incident is documented here as well the lesser known anti-segregation protest that the band made at their Cow Palace gig in California - a move which influenced many other concert venues in the US to ignore segregation rules and encourage integration.
It’s clear that Howard has taken his time with this lovingly constructed doc, carefully sourcing private material and photos that are unlikely to have been seen by the public before and pieced them together with the more familiar shots, meshing them into something special. This new material adds an insight into the private world of the most well-known band in history that hasn’t been seen before. In addition to this we’re treated to narration from the surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and tour manager Neil Aspinall along with archive interviews and snippets from the late John Lennon, George Harrison and manager Brian Epstein. Add the personal anecdotes of fans and concert attendees such as Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello and Sigourney Weaver which are interwoven with the insightful tales of journalist Larry Kane who travelled with the band on their 1964 and 65 US tours and it’s clear that no one tires of regaling us with their own personal Beatles experience.
Whilst it’s certainly true that the Beatles story has been well documented before what is offered is a new perspective, new material and new stories that make the legend so much richer and more magical to look back on. A captivating treat for Beatles and music fans alike.