I’d wager a fairly large bet that The Beatles would be the only band in the history of human existence where the vast majority of the general public could accurately name all four members. Three at the very least.
Knowing who John, Paul, Ringo and George were, was more than just general knowledge or the act of reciting popular culture. It was curriculum. I was born a few years after the murder of John Lennon, well after the height of Beatlemania, but their status as the greatest band of all time was deeply engrained knowledge. Their immortality: unquestionable.
Part history lesson for youngsters, part nostalgic trip for fans, Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week remembers them when they were the greatest live band ever. But if you want a comprehensive, introspective analysis that chronicles how the four lads from Liverpool changed the world, then you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Howard focuses solely on their music and the enormity of the public performances. And judging by the wide smiles and foot tapping in my cinema, this was a wise choice.
This rock-documentary follows the band as the toured the globe from 1963 to 1966. It contextualises their meteoric rise alongside the civil rights movement and the assassination of JFK, but mostly it provides audiences with some outstanding never-before-seen archival footage and sound bites from the inside of their own Beatles’ world.
In the early days the band were all smiles, full of boyish charms and quips. Their playful banter and enthusiasm on full display. They enjoyed the commotion; the phenomenon that they had become overnight.
Each year of their tumultuous journey is intercut with energetic live performance footage and insightful backstage vignettes. The film’s best moments usually surround some playful banter or tomfoolery between the members during an interview or in a hotel room. Harrison dipping his ash on Lennon’s head being one of these cheeky best snapshots.
We even get to see a teenaged Sigourney Weaver in the crowd at their Hollywood Bowl performance.
The film glosses over most of the bands shortcomings. It’s all rock and roll. No sex or drugs or tension. A brief allusion to them being stoned during the shooting of Help in the Bahamas is about the only transgression they speak of.
By the time they hit 1966, their burnout is palpable. The public hysteria was at fever pitch. Right-winged Christians burned their albums. The Phillipines were offended by an apparent snub. Teenage girls still screamed and wailed in and out of consciousness, but the band’s youthful vigour had dried up.
Their final large scaled concert ends with the band being carted out of the stadium in a meat truck.
They ponder how Elvis Presley did it on his own.
Howard, rightfully avoids eulogising Lennon or Harrison, instead opting to conclude his film with footage from their last “public” performance. Atop of Abbey Road studios in 1969, the band looks to have aged considerably, but away from swarming crowds, they serenade the rooftops of London with a newfound freedom.
The Beatles would retire from the road, but their music would continue to progress and revolutionise.
Revel in it.