More famous than Kim Kardashian’s reality show life, than Michael Jordan’s athletic and advertising domination, than Michael Jackson’s pop/R&B dance anthems and even (allegedly) more famous than Jesus—Ladies and gentlemen… The Beatles. Their popularity was unlike anything that we can see today. Looking back from the perspective of a time dominated by “the celebrity,” it all seems to pale in comparison to the clamor devoted to one group, one band, one message in such a concentrated and physical way. Likes, site visits and streaming numbers just don’t make an impression in the mind the same way that endless streets of thousands of manic and emotional crowds of devotees do.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years puts on display that very energy and enthusiasm of the masses that all other stars can only aspire to. The documentary, directed by Ron Howard, focuses in on the period of 1962-1966, when the band went on the road and cemented their dominance. The camera follows four cheeky working-class teens from Liverpool as they trot around the world, leaving mobs of kids in their wake. The movie finishes with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, so it does not include the later studio-centered and experimental stage of the band. This is not a movie about the bearded, sitar playing, Yoko Ono Beatles. This is about the visceral and simple embrace of rock music and youth culture.
The film has a recognizable and somewhat predictable music documentary style. It progresses more or less chronologically and bounces from performances to profiles of key figures to observations on the inner workings of the group. Interviews are provided by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and recordings of John Lennon and George Harrison are intermixed throughout. The movie also gathers a rather disparate set of celebrities who intertwine their own stories of the Beatles. This includes Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, who humorously can be seen amongst the screaming fans at the Hollywood Bowl. The movie was released by Apple Corps, who manages the Beatles’ rights, so don’t expect any juicy gossip or a deconstructive angle. But the documentary still holds enough interesting anecdotes to engage Beatles fans, including a pointed story on the band’s refusal to play segregated stadiums in the US.
The biggest draw by far (and more than ample justification to see the movie) is the remastered and restored concert recordings of the group that still manage to sound loud and clear over the shrieking of thousands of teenage girls. You know the hits and you probably know what to expect from a Beatles concert, even if you didn’t go to one. Sure, the band’s alleged fame and their effect on their crowds may all sound like clichés now, but that doesn’t do the footage justice.
The most compelling shots throughout the movie are those of the crowds of The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium and the many other gigs shown in the documentary. While you nod your head along and mouth the lyrics, don’t forget to look closely at those gushing and energetic fans. They are a reminder that it takes so much more than four mop-headed English boys and their manager to make the Beatles. This story is about millions of devoted followers—perhaps you were one of them—who adored them and, more importantly for this movie, went to their concerts. It’s not just the Beatles who held the power over of the world; it’s also about what the youth collectively bestowed upon them.
— Ryan Fajardo