As a tribute to one of the iconic pop bands during the late 20th century, Ron Howard’s documentary film “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” may provide nothing particularly revealing even to the audiences with vague knowledge on the Beatles, but this is a first-rate musical experience which vividly conveys to us that dizzy, frantic, and exhilarating period swirling around the four members of the band. As the documentary focuses on their finest moments during that period, we cannot help but be amused and awed by their insanely rapid rise to enormous international fame and success, and it is fascinating and entertaining to watch how they bounced together from one point to another during that period which changed their life and career forever.
As many of you know, the early years of the Beatles were plain and humble as they tried to reach for their hope and dream as young aspiring musicians living in Liverpool during the late 1950s. After playing together for a while, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison came to go through a couple of brief stint periods in Hamburg during 1960-61, and that was the point around which the potential of their band began to emerge. As they became a little more popular than before in their hometown, they happened to be noticed by a young local record store owner named Brian Epstein, who became their manager and subsequently led them to George Martin, a legendary music producer who was the head of EMI’s Parlophone label during that time.
After Ringo Starr joined them during their first recording sessions at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London, the Beatles as we know was finally formed, and they soon had a phenomenal breakthrough via their debut album “Please Please Me”. Many of young people in Britain quickly became their ardent fans, and the popularity of the Beatles was soon expanded to US and other countries around the world as the band continued to rise forward with more concerts and albums during next several years.
The fervent excitement and adoration toward the Beatles was unprecedented to say the least, and a number of archival footage clips in the documentary show us that the frantic opening sequence in their great musical film “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) is no exaggeration at all. For many young people, the Beatles concert was an event they could not miss, and they were enthralled and excited whenever they got a chance to see the Beatles inside or outside concert places. When the Beatles began their third US tour in New York City, the members had to perform at Shea Stadium instead of any available concert hall because there were so many eager fans to see their performance, and we are told that this was quite a challenge to them as well as many technicians at the concert because they had no experience with such a big event like this.
As pointed out in the documentary, one of the main reasons for the unbelievable success of the Beatles was that it happened to come at the right moment to boost the band way to the top. While usually maintaining their uniformly dapper, youthful appearance, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr exuded each own personality, and they naturally represented the social/generational changes to strike the 1960s as the world was swept by many of their memorable songs to be remembered.
Of course, they became less enthusiastic than before as they started to feel like being stuck in their continuing success. As an attempt to recapture the magic in “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help!” (1965), their another musical film directed by Richard Lester, was less successful in comparison, and they understandably had less fun with making that movie. While they became exhausted by their relentless concert and recording schedule, they often received negative reactions as being direct and frank about themselves, and then there came that silly religious controversy surrounding Lennon’s casual remark on their celebrity.
Struggling with the increasing weight of their burdensome fame, they held and supported each other none the less. After their concert in San Francisco in 1966, they stopped concert tour and then focused more on recording albums, and they soon found themselves getting in the groove again while having lots of fun with their musical experiments, though they eventually arrived at the inevitable break-up not long after their final public performance which was held on the rooftop of the Apple Corps building at 3 Savile Row, London in 1969. As they admitted, they were forced to grow up too soon because of their unexpected success, but they endured and prevailed over their fame unlike many of ill-fated contemporary pop musicians, and they could go on further even when their artistic paths were eventually separated from each other.
Although Lennon and Harrison are not available due to their respective demises, the excerpts from their past interviews are flawlessly mixed together with the new interview clips of McCartney and Starr, and other interviewees including Elvis Costello, Whoopi Goldberg, and Richard Lester also provide interesting things to engage us. In case of the archival footage clips of the Beatles concerts, the documentary gives us enough time for us to absorb and appreciate the musical excitement contained inside them, and their quality is often better than you would expect. The best example comes from the 35mm film footage shot during the band’s 1965 concert at Shea Stadium, which was digitally restored for the documentary to 4K resolution with significantly improved sound. The 30 minutes of the footage is presented right after the end credits of the documentary, and this is surely a delicious bonus for anyone familiar with the works of the Beatles.
While it mostly recounts many well-known things about its subject, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” presents them in such an entertaining way that you will probably not mind even though it essentially plays the same tunes you have heard before. To be frank with you, I do not know much about the Beatles besides some of its most famous songs, but I found myself excited by the undeniable talent and spirit observed from its four members, and I frequently nodded with joy and smile as enjoying their concert clips on the screen. No wonder their music is still alive and well even during our current century.