The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years

****

Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years
"Howard’s documentary is candid and enlightening."

In one of the rare diversions into talking head territory in Eight Days A Week, Howard Goodall attempts to quantify the originality that sprung forth from the fab four. He earmarks Schubert as one example of someone whose catalogue of 600+ compositions contains around 100 or so exemplary melodies. Mozart is given his dues next, before Goodall suggests that no one since, bar the Beatles, created so many unique and brilliant melodies compared to the sheer volume of work they put out - including their respective solo efforts.

This is the legend of The Beatles, a epoch defining band of almost unparalleled creativity and craft. The reality was that they were always just four teenagers from Liverpool who were dedicated to getting to the “toppermost of the poppermost”. Ron Howard documents here the story of their touring years, from 1962 to 1966.

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As someone who has always loved the Beatles but never fully investigated their early period, I found the most startling thing here the sheer electricity of the performances on show. Early shows have a spark to them that marks them out as apt performers. Whilst they giddily laugh their way through interviews in both the UK and the US, there’s a cool undercurrent of a group that had just figured out their own internal chemistry to the point where everything they did was tinged with magic.

Howard’s documentary is candid and enlightening. It walks us through a short three year period that bustles with activity, from the very first tours to Germany to the American tours and filming of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! It’s an age old story now, one that has been retold many times so that certain points have reached the status of fable, such as Lennon’s comments about the band being bigger than Jesus, but there’s distance in the years now and seeing Paul and John attempt to articulate these events five decades apart is oddly touching.

Petty squabbles are left out, and as such the documentary is perhaps a tad over glossy, but it doesn’t particularly matter. This is a film about that once in a century flash of mania that captured the world’s eyes and ears. The weirdness of four young men being shuttled around America to the adulation of thousands of teenage fans is only explored in Larry Kane’s musings at the time, and in his vox pops here, but it’s heartening to see the band refuse to play between apartheid crowds. In its own way, it's an interesting commentary on contemporary events, with the jovial drive of the Beatles contrasting against the far more saccharine yet manufactured pop idols of today, and it's hard to imagine a modern artist being so staunchly political, exemplified here by The Beatles refusal to play to segregated crowds.

For those that know the story inside out, there are enough rare moments and charming archive footage to make this a worthwhile experience. Getting to relive those years through the lens of nostalgia turns George, John, Paul and Ringo into icons that transcend the years. The journey from suited and booted head shaking pop stars into a collective recording entity that pushed the boundaries of pop music (with a little prodding from their American rivals) is eminently watchable.

The only galling thing is the film teasing viewers with a glimpse at what is to come with the footage of the nascent recordings of Sgt. Pepper's being the climactic moments of the film. But considering the many frictions in the band during that period, it’s perhaps best to leave the joy and wonder of those three years separated and crystallized as they are here, a beautiful butterfly spreading its wings over all pop culture.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2016
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A compilation of found footage.
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