Should I Watch..? 'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years'
What's the big deal?
The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years is a music documentary about the legendary live performances given by The Beatles between the years 1962-1966. The film is made up of a combination of remastered footage from those concerts, interviews with the surviving members of the band as well as celebrity fans and archive footage of the band. The film was made in conjunction with both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as well as John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and George Harrison's widow Olivia Harrison. Directed by Ron Howard, the film went on to earn more than $12 million worldwide as well as a Grammy award for Best Music Film.
What's it about?
The film covers the Beatles' incredible and unprecedented career as a band, focusing on their live performances from when they first tasted success in 1962 in the bowels of Liverpool's Cavern Club to their final gig at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1966. During that time, the phrase Beatlemania was coined to describe the sheer level of fan interest specifically from thousands of screaming teenage girls. The numbers of people eager to see them live ultimately led the group away from clubs and theatres into vast stadiums, nowhere more so than in the US.
Things couldn't last, though. After a media backlash after ill-advised comments from John Lennon, the group found themselves in the US facing a hostile press amid racial tension and the rising threat of violence. Growing increasingly disillusioned with performing live, the group retreated to the safety of the studio and started to produce some of the most critically hailed albums of their career - albums the band knew they could never replicate live.
Himself (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Mark Monroe *
Release Date (UK)
15th September, 2016
Documentary, History, Music
What's to like?
I admit to not being the biggest Beatles fan in the world. I appreciate their significance in inspiring other artists through their numerous appearances on stage and screen but I couldn't understand what attracted new listeners so long after their peak. Watching Eight Days A Week certainly gives plenty of insight into the band from the early days playing radio-friendly pop and rock-and-roll covers to the more abrasive, experimental style they adapted as they strived to move on artistically and professional. The film's soundtrack gives the band plenty of scope to let their music do the talking, even allowing lesser known songs like Things We Said Today and Dizzy Miss Lizzy to be heard.
The backstage footage is just as illuminating, shining a light behind the scenes at the band's increasing reluctance to tour and their natural musicianship in the studio. They come across as four guys hanging out and having a great time with all four members of the group discussing their heyday in archive interviews and specially recorded chats for this film with McCartney and Starr. For fans, the film won't reveal anything new or expose any secrets but as a chance to enjoy the group at the very peak of their powers, the film is a rare opportunity that is not one to miss.
- The title of the film and song has been attributed by McCartney to a chauffeur who was driving McCartney to Lennon's house. Asking if he'd been working hard, the driver apparently said "Working hard, working eight days a week." It had previously been attributed to Starr but he denies this.
- The film features music digitally remastered by producer Giles Martin, the son of George Martin who produced much of the Beatles' work. The film is dedicated to George who passed away in 2016.
- The film features footage of the band playing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Tom Petty discussed how this performance encouraged him to pursue a musical career in his own documentary Runnin' Down A Dream.
What's not to like?
Aside from the lack of revelations, the film is keen to stick to the narrative that these four boys from Liverpool were literally the saviours of the Sixties. With the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Sigourney Weaver and Eddie Izzard (who would have only just been born in 1962) singing the praises of the band, it reinforces the vice-like grip that Apple Corps has on the production. Knowing how fiercely Apple Corps defends the rights and image of their most cherished "product", it should come as no surprise to viewers how polished and sacred the band appears. I couldn't recall one mention of the various illicit drugs the group took in order to seek sanctuary from the insane pressures the band was under.
There are also some notable absences in the picture and not just because George and John are sadly no longer with us. The film kinda glosses over the impact on the band's success made by Brian Epstein and George Martin who get cursory mentions but nothing significant. As captivating as the live performances are, the film needed more context - I wanted to hear more about how A Hard Day's Night and Help! influenced the band's direction and of course, how the band developed after they retired from touring to concentrate on producing some of their greatest music on albums like Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Revolver.
Should I watch it?
Even non-fans will enjoy Eight Days A Week which provides audiences with a magical look back at one of the greatest bands in history performing at the very zenith of their popularity and ability. The archive footage is remarkable to watch and the music still sounds as instantly catchy as it ever did. I'd have liked a bit more scope (perhaps Howard is saving their more experimental side for a sequel down the line?) but you can't have everything, can you? Even if you are a Beatle...
Great For: Beatles fans (obviously), pop culture enthusiasts, radio DJs, home purchase (the film has been paired with a remastered CD of their live performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964-65)
Not So Great For: anyone expecting explosive revelations, hardcore Beatles fans expecting more
What else should I watch?
Of course, there was another British rock band making waves across the world in the Sixties and who continue to do so today. While never quite replicating the huge success the Beatles enjoyed, the Rolling Stones have since had an extensive career spanning six decades and have appeared in a number of documentaries. Gimme Shelter covers the band's appearance at the ill-fated 1969 Altamont Free Concert where things turned ugly between drugged up fans and the Hell's Angels acting as security. For a straight-up concert of the group, Martin Scorsese's Shine A Light covers the band during their 2006 tour.
The only documentary about the Beatles shot at the time was Let It Be, a project intended to show the band possibly returning to performing live but instead showed them on the brink of disintegration. Previously, the group had appeared in zany comedies like A Hard Day's Night or more experimental efforts like the drug-fuelled Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox