The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years
2016, NR, 106 min. Directed by Ron Howard.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 9, 2016
Eight Days a Week is an apt title for this Ron Howard-directed documentary about the early years of the Fab Four, essentially 1962-1966. At first a gas for the young moptops, performing live in the face of unchecked Beatlemania eventually caused the band to quit touring and focus on creating studio albums. This film charts the course of how, in short order, the Beatles went from a popular club act in Hamburg and Liverpool to international darlings and everybody wanting to be their baby – now. Being in the eye of the insanity went from thrilling to draining, and after realizing they were starting to go through the motions without any of the passion, and that the demands of Beatlemania made it so that the only venues they could play were giant arenas with lousy acoustics, they decided unanimously to call it quits. One of the insights we get into the band is that all their decisions were unanimous.
For modern-day connoisseurs of the Beatles, this film (which also premieres Friday on Hulu) will yield few revelations, though it offers a delightful stroll down memory lane and understanding of how the four young men functioned as a unit. The archival footage is well-chosen and the songs provide an ample and still-stirring backdrop. Present-day interviews with surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr add perspective, and observers such as Eddie Izzard, Elvis Costello, Richard Lester, and journalist Larry Kane help characterize the cultural phenomenon, although the inclusion of Malcolm Gladwell explaining popular culture makes the film seem as though it’s struggling too hard to prove the band’s social impact. Yet, interviewees Whoopi Goldberg and Dr. Kitty Oliver lend a welcome racial focus: Goldberg offering that she felt like she could be friends with the band members, and Oliver talking about how the Beatles helped desegregate Jacksonville, Fla., and other areas of the South by refusing to play the Gator Bowl unless integration was allowed.
As a documentarian, however, Howard lacks the zeal of a true historian. Certain key elements and figures (i.e., Brian Epstein) are glossed over, and the film’s U.S.-centric biases are front and center. Beatlemania is seen through the fulcrum of such events as JFK’s assassination and the escalating war in Vietnam. With the Beatles’ company Apple Corps as one of the producing partners, Howard’s access to original material was presumably nonpareil. And with a subject as rich as the Beatles, “you know that can’t be bad.”