Review: 'The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years'

The documentary from Ron Howard opens today at Esquire Theatre.

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click to enlarge The Beatles - Photo: Courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.
Photo: Courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.
The Beatles
At 137 minutes, this documentary from Ron Howard could have been twice as long and still just skimmed the surface, so monumental is the history of The Beatles and their impact on popular music and culture. But director Howard, working with music producer Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin) and editor Paul Crowder, has found and assembled some excellent footage, such as a Beatles concert in Manchester, England on Nov. 20, 1963 or a 1966 press conference in Hamburg, Germany where The Beatles give an impassioned reply to a questioner who accuses them of turning “horrid snobby” with success. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the surviving Beatles, have provided new interviews for this film; Howard uses old interviews with John Lennon, George Harrison and others very well. From the title of the film, you would think it is just about The Beatles’ history of live performance. But there’s more. It has material about their early years in Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany before finding worldwide fame in 1963-1964, as well as showing their tours of the U.S., Japan and other places once Beatlemania struck. It’s amazing how good The Beatles could be live given the obstacles, especially their harmonies. But there were limits. For instance, regarding the 1966 tour of the U.S., a frustrated Lennon says, “The Beatles were the show; the music had nothing to do with it.” And the film provides audio from the band’s famous Shea Stadium show of that year to illustrate the point — we hear the music the way the fans (and The Beatles) heard it, through the ballpark’s tinny P.A. system barely above the crowd roar. The film then explains how this frustrating experience led to them seek an alternate identity in the studio, to remove themselves from the baggage of being The Beatles in order to reprioritize the music. The result was 1967’s musically ambitious Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album that stands among their most enduring accomplishments. The way Eight Days a Week makes connections like that are what makes it such an illuminating film. (Opens Thursday at Esquire Theatre) (Not rated) Grade: A-

Also opening this week:

Blair Witch // Bridget Jones’s Baby // Kicks // Les Cowboys // Snowden

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