The best documentaries, regardless of subject, give us something new. They teach us. They offer fresh perspective. They bring secret worlds to us and allow us to be flies on the walls of rooms we can only dream of being inside.
That is really, really hard to do when you’re making a documentary about the Beatles.
After more than 50 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Fab Four. It’s been told and re-told countless times, the images and sounds forever seared into our collective consciousness: The black-and-white footage of thousands of screaming girls; the cadence of Ed Sullivan’s “Ladies and gentlemen…the Beatles!”; John, Paul, George and Ringo dashing through the streets of London, chased by hordes of fans, as that opening chord rings out in A Hard Day’s Night.
Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, focuses exclusively on the band’s touring years, from 1962-1966—and while it certainly doesn’t break any new ground, it’s a fun retelling of the band’s meteoric rise. What it does feature are new interviews with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as a generous amount of archival interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison. Previously unseen, fan-recorded concert footage and some revealing studio outtakes are littered throughout, and while the film hits all the major points you’d expect it to (Beatlemania was crazy!), it’s so enjoyable you’re reminded there’s a reason this well keeps getting re-tapped.
On the surface, some of the celebrity talking heads may seem like odd choices, but they all offer compelling perspectives. Elvis Costello recalls how he initially hated Rubber Soul, noting, “It’s a long way from ‘I want to hold your hand’ to ‘was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure.’” Eddie Izzard talks about the band’s cheekiness and ability to brush off tough or dumb questions from reporters with the ease of a comedian responding to a heckler (we see a smiling Ringo answer “What of reports that you’re just a bunch of British Elvis Presleys?” by curling his upper lip, wiggling his pelvis like the King and insisting, “It’s not true!”) Whoopi Goldberg muses about how the band affected her perspective on race and recalls seeing them play Shea Stadium. Sigourney Weaver describes carefully picking out a dress to wear to a Beatles concert before we’re presented with actual footage of her at the show, screaming along in the crowd.
The focus on the touring years means we don’t get any of the drama from the band’s final years. (Indeed, there’s not a single mention of Yoko Ono.) There’s virtually no attention paid to the personal lives of any of the Beatles, save for a few quick images of John and Cynthia Lennon, Paul and Linda McCartney, and Ringo and his wife Maureen for a brief segment about how at that stage in their career, they had begun to settle down and touring became less appealing. In that sense, Eight Days a Week ends a little abruptly, fast-forwarding from the band’s 1966 decision to stop touring after their show at Candlestick Park to their famous 1969 rooftop concert. It makes sense for the purposes of this documentary—the film very clearly sets out to focus solely on the touring years—but even so, it’s a little jarring to see three years that were so pivotal to the band’s history glossed over with a quick montage.
Ultimately, though, it’s a well-curated retelling. We know how it goes, but that doesn’t mean we feel any less joy at seeing a crowd of thousands singing “She Loves You” arm-in-arm, or at George playfully flicking the ash from his cigarette onto the top of John’s head during a TV interview, or at John ruthlessly responding, “I’m Eric,” to a clueless American reporter who had asked him, “Which one are you?” Just like the Beatles’ records will continue to spin across the world, from generation to generation until the end of time, we’ll keep poring over footage of these lads and talking about how they changed music—and pop culture as a whole—forever.
Director: Ron Howard
Release Date: September 16, 2016