The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years review

The Beatles face the music

The Beatles face the music

Ron Howard’s Eight Days a Week has brought Beatlemania back to the city where it began, Getintothis Del Pike finds much to get excited about down at the front row at FACT.

A while ago when we announced the premiere of Eight Days a Week, we posed the question, do we actually need another Beatles movie? Walking out into the warm night air following one of the most entertaining movie experiences in memory last night, the answer is a resounding “Yes!

Ron Howard, a director known for documenting key events in American history, (Apollo 13, Frost / Nixon) and more recently tackling the subject of Jay Z in Made in America, scores once again with a distinctly Stateside take on the Beatles‘  US invasion. Journeying from The Ed Sullivan Show in Feb 1964 to their swansong live appearance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August ’66, the film also calls in on the rest of the world from Manchester to Melbourne, but Howard focuses on the band’s adventures in America, in what has almost become as much an example of Americana as Elvis and Cash.

Unlike previous Beatles docs, 1995’s Anthology in particular, Eight Days a Week is extraordinarily intimate, and perhaps more than any other on-screen portrayal allows us to discover their personalities in so much more depth. John In particular is placed under the microscope. At times hilarious, playing journalists for the gullible fools they were, (the clip where he convinces a hapless reporter that he is The Beatle called Eric typifies his spirit), other times plain scared; John is seen at his most unnervingly complex.

Placed in the sublime, sophisticated editing and narrative of the film, his apology to America for apparently claiming The Beatles were bigger than Jesus carries so much more resonance. Paul’s claim that John just wanted to crack a joke but didn’t dare, offers so much relief from an otherwise impossibly tense moment.

Told with great affection by Paul and Ringo in standard talking head sequences and aided by John and George in archive clips, there is a great emphasis on humour. That other talking heads predominantly including Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg and Richard Curtis (why?!), suggest that Howard was intent on turning the giggle switch to 11, and he scores.

Throughout the early touring years particularly, it is difficult to stop grinning as The Beatles discover America and beyond, all wide eyed and innocent, and turn every press conference into a hilarious cabaret en route. The film could indeed qualify as this year’s finest comedy.

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So tight are the band, (Paul holds up four fingers to illustrate how every decision made had to be unanimous), that they are in constant harmony when facing the press, their gags and surreal Goon inspired humour flows like water and appears to be meticulously rehearsed. They were as much comic masters as they were musical.

And then there is the music. Every Beatles fan’s Christmas come at once. With beautiful restoration work on both sound and vision, this is the cleanest, most exhilarating footage of the band playing live you will ever see. The 4K restoration of The Shea Stadium gig shown as a 30 minute extra after the end credits is pure magic and cannot fail to make every fan in the cinema feel privileged.

So intimate is the live footage that you can cut with a knife the change in atmosphere from the band having the time of their lives onstage to despising every second. George’s sneer and John’s exhaustion are there in vivid HD.

What the film uniquely offers, aside from the absolute intimacy is the wonderful sequence that explores the relationship between the band and Larry Kane. The fan/ journalist, joined them on tour and saw them change from carefree lads on a voyage of discovery to jaded, strung out exhaustees, disenchanted with the trials of filming Help! and dependent on drugs to get them through the day.

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This period also deals with the issue of racial segregation as The Beatles toured America during the era of civil rights protests. In rare archive footage we hear Paul voicing his dissent of segregation and we see them refusing to play certain venues.

The gig at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida in September 1964 is presented as ground-breaking in the fact that due to the band’s mutual insistence, segregation rules were lifted. One fan, at the time a young black girl, relives the joy of standing on the terraces among white people feeling safe and united because of The Beatles.

This intelligent and sensitive side to The Beatles is surprisingly rare, and more than likely is borne from Ron Howard’s perception of them as a child – those cuddly moptops.

Imagine an episode of Happy Days when Richie Cunningham’s younger sister Joanie wakes up to find The Beatles have come to town and you get an instant context to place The Touring Years into. Some of the most hilarious then terrifying moments come from the footage of the screaming hordes of kids. One minute excitedly chattering about Ringo’s “Sexy Nose” in comedic vox pops, the next minute being dragged, crushed and unconscious from the crowd.

The sheer volume of audience numbers at Shea Stadium is still breath-taking.

The contrast of the claustrophobic but essential Cavern appearances, through the mass hysteria of Shea Stadium, to the serenity of the final gig on the Apple rooftop brings The Beatles tenure as a live entity full circle. Less pleasant episodes in the story are avoided in the name of entertainment, they can be easily found elsewhere, and we are left with a thoroughly lovable Beatles movie.

If one message comes through, it is simply that The Beatles were as fab as we already knew they were, but hammers home their intelligence, integrity and awareness. Four normal lads thrust into an uncharted maelstrom of chaos and somehow coming out of the other end as heroes.

Eight Days a Week is excellent, on a par with Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison biog Living In The Material World, but with much more humour and entertainment value.

It is difficult to assess how the rest of the country will be reacting to the film but at the moment, as the packed out FACT proved last night and the front page of The Liverpool Echo suggests, a little bit of Beatlemania has returned to Liverpool once more. Thanks Ron.