Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (2016) Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Mark Monroe. Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Scott Pascucci, and Nigel Sinclair. Black and White and Color. UK/USA Runtime: 138 minutes (95 minutes + Additional footage of the Beatles at Shea Stadium). Documentary

During the 1960s, The Beatles were the biggest act on the planet, so big in fact that Variety magazine named them the top entertainment icons of the 20th century. Pretty good considering they were only recording and releasing music for a little less than 9 years; from late 1962 to early 1970.

While many today don’t think of The Beatles as a live act, since their most celebrated work came after they stopped touring in 1966, seeing them live was a memorable experience for those who were able to afford the $2 to $4 for a ticket to see them and who had a ride to the concert, since many were too young to drive. Trying to capture that magical moment is the idea behind Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years which had a short theatrical release before ending up on Hulu and eventually on DVD and Blu-Ray.

In the early 2000s, a film archivist company, One Voice, One World, approached Apple Corps., the Beatles’ company, looking for a commission to gather fan-made footage of the group performing. During the rise of Beatlemania, there was also an increase in the home use of movie cameras (think of your cell phone but much larger and with film reels). The project stalled for a few years, until Jeff Jones, the head of Apple Corps., brought in the producer of the Bob Dylan documentary “No Direction Home" and the George Harrison documentary “Living in the Material World,” Nigel Sinclair.

Sinclair was working with director Ron Howard on the film Rush (2013) and asked him if he would be interested in working on the project. Howard, in turn, brought in his long-time producing partner, Brian Glazer. In addition to Howard, Glazer, and Sinclair, Scott Pascucci, the CEO of Bicycle Music, also serves as producer.

To enhance the sound quality, Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ music producer, George Martin, was brought in. Giles had worked on the music for the Beatles’ Cirque du Soleil Vegas show Love. Some of the sounds were originally recorded by the Beatles but never previously released.

While part of the hook for the film is that it includes crowd-sourced footage, a lot of the footage is really from pre-existing news sources, like press conferences and previously released footage from the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan, their Budokan concert in Tokyo and their Shea Stadium concert, though there is some fan footage involved as well. A lot of it is hand-held, sometimes out of focus and sometimes blurry, but it was certainly as heartfelt as selfies are supposed to be. There was a shared experience for those who saw them live and it is their telling of that experience that can be very interesting and they get screen time as long as they are celebrities.

The Beatles perform in England when America was just a goal.

Sigourney Weaver, who saw them at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964, recounts her own adolescent fantasy of being noticed out in the crowd.

Whoopi Goldberg was someone I would never have associated with the Beatles, but apparently, their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show had a real impact on her and her getting to see them at Shea Stadium was a true highlight for her. Her telling of that story is very moving. Surprisingly, the footage of the show looks really horrible on the big screen. Not sure why, but that has no impact on Goldberg’s story.

Elvis Costello, a fellow Liverpudlian and a musician, can speak of them on two levels, fan and contemporary. His insights as a fan growing up provide some great commentary about how fans reacted to their musical maturation.

Larry Kane, a Miami-based journalist who accompanied them on their 1964 tour, provides some very insightful recollections of his time with the group. It is from him that we see that they made an effort to be kind to their opening acts, that were largely ignored by the crowds. It is also through him that we learn the Beatles refused to perform in front of segregated audiences, which forced the Gator Bowl to allow blacks and whites to buy tickets and sit together.

Also interesting, but really unrelated to their live performance was the comments of Howard Goodall, a composer, some of whose work you might or not be familiar with. He speaks in wonderment of the Beatles’ accomplishment with melodies in terms of the work of Mozart.

The film loosely chronicles the Beatles' rise from their roots in the Cavern Club in Liverpool to super-stardom, occasionally stepping back from the progress to delve into other details, like their songwriting skills and their relationship with manager Brian Epstein, who doesn’t get mentioned until the Shea Stadium concert footage when he’s shown watching like a protective father from the sidelines. While Epstein may have failed to make them all the money they could have, he certainly succeeded in making them famous.

The Beatles perform in Washington D.C. during their first visit to the U.S.

Some time is also given over to their accomplishments in the studio, both in having number one albums, but also the maturation of their songs and the complexities that they couldn’t perform live on stage. George Martin, their producer and the most likely candidate for Fifth Beatle determination, helped shepherd them through this process and gets some of the credit he deserves.

The Beatles are also interviewed, providing the kind of insight that only one of them could provide. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were interviewed specifically for the film, while file footage of the late George Harrison and John Lennon were scoured for their insights.

The Beatles sound didn't come together until Ringo Starr joined the band.

The film hits certain highlights of the Beatles’ tours, though overall it seems a little American-centric. We see them in certain cities, but the predominant amount seems to be in the States, not England. That is not to say there aren’t performances in the UK, Japan, and Denmark, but their residence in Paris at the beginning of 1964 is shown in only as it relates to their coming to America.

Candlestick Park was the last concert The Beatles would play in front of a paying crowd.

One of my sons had a Popular Culture class in college and the professor made the asinine observation that A Hard Day’s Night (1964) was made to show audiences how they should react when they saw the Beatles. That declaration overlooked the fact that audiences were screaming for them long before United Artists had the bright idea to try and capitalize on what they thought was a fast-moving trend that would have worn itself out by mid-1964. This film is a testament that predominantly female audiences were screaming for them when they were still playing the Cavern Club and did not need to be instructed to do so.

It didn't take more than a couple of years before the Beatles tired of the "freak show" they were becoming. After the breakthrough year of 1964, 1965 seemed like a repeat. They toured and recorded extensively and made another film, Help! 1966 promised more of the same, but touring was getting to be too much of a grind and all four decided after Candlestick Park to stop touring altogether.

The film ends with the Beatles final performance on the rooftop of Apple Corp. in London. Even though the group was on the verge of breaking up in 1969, they were still a tight band and it really appears they still enjoyed playing with each other. Seeing this footage, in particular, is a reminder that there is still a viable Beatles documentary waiting for a new public release. Let It Be (1970) has not been seen for years and would be a welcomed release should the Beatles’ Apple Corps. decide to finally release it for consumption again.

The Beatles perform at Shea Stadium.

In the theaters, the film is accompanied by 30 minutes of a 50-minute concert film of the Beatles’ Shea Stadium show. Among their firsts were stadium shows. While not the first, Shea was the most famous. Originally shot by Ed Sullivan’s production company, this shorter version eliminates the opening acts but contains all of their performance. Remastered in 4K, the show doesn’t really look all that enhanced.

One of the predominant questions the Beatles were asked during their 1964 tour is what were they going to do when the bubble burst. The applause at the end of the film during the showing I attended proves that the bubble never did. The Beatles may have broken up but their legacy lives on as their songs, and the screaming fans still resonate in our ears.

For other Beatles films, see our Beatles Film Review Hub:

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