Images: Apple Corp.
Documentaries as a lot, tend to come and go from any U.S. city far too quickly. We’ve witnessed this too many times from The Rolling Stones’ “Shine A Light” to a restoration of the original “Woodstock” Music Festival to Neil Young’s “Journeys”. Now comes a timely, if not surreal look back at one of the greatest –if not the greatest moment in rock and roll with Ron Howard’s bio pic ‘Eight Days A Week’.
First of all, it’s worth noting that the Apple Corp. film begins with a message on the screen that following the conclusion of the film, Howard is including a fully restored 30 minute concert of The Beatles 1965 concert at Shea stadium, that I would expect any musician from Taylor Swift to Lenny Kravitz would be familiar with in modern culture.
Howard approaches the film from roughly 1962 to 1966 when the band toured relentlessly, leading to George Harrison’s disgust at becoming a freak show in baseball stadiums where screaming fans prevented the music from being heard. Sound systems were truly not as developed as today with modern technology. It’s also worth noting that the task of what to include and exclude is a source of high pressure for any filmmaker. To this end, praise must go to Howard for giving us just enough of a sense of the pre-Beatle breakthrough days in bars and footage from the infamous Cavern Club. This is to say that first drummer, Pete Best and the first wives of the four lads are not a part of the documentary’s focus. Instead, what we receive is a generous “behind the scenes” look at how the band coped with touring 24 cities in 30 days, 15 countries and over 800 performances. Amid limousines, trains, buses, hotel rooms and chartered aircraft, the tightly-knit harmonies and unforgettable melodies of optimism arrived in the U.S. just weeks after President John F. Kennedy was slain in Dallas.
Howard’s access to surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are supplemented by previously recorded interviews with John Lennon and George Harrison. This has the effect of lessening the pain of the loss of two beloved band members whom the world felt they knew well. In comes the insight beyond the shock of their impact upon the social cultures of the world and with a unique and relatable sound that was at once liberating and part of destiny.
Arriving for the very first time on a Pan Am jet to New York’s JFK International Airport, there is the familiar newsreel footage. But Howard goes far beyond this to reveal what has always been either unattainable or dismissed. Hotel room and studio conversations are intriguing.
The Beatles only had two roadies from 1962 -1970, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall (both deceased). We hear from Aspinall and the great producer who just passed this year, George Martin. In a rather brilliant development, Martin and band manager Brian Epstein were on the same page when it came to a plan for the band’s long-term career that exceeded what each of the four Beatles could have imagined.
Howard’s film focuses on the Beatles as a live phenomenon, and to see these performances on the big screen with modern day theater sound equipment is nothing short of having a front row seat to every sports stadium venue where pandemonium was breaking out. The Beatles were a band for their time, and as the fine pacing of this film takes us through 1964’s peaks, we see the band maturing from kids into adults.
It is a relief that social media was not in existence back then, when the press behaved with far less emphasis on cheap sensationalism of say, a TMZ episode fueled with gossip.
Let it be said also that “Eight Days a Week” reveals that there was no template for what became a four-year uninterrupted pageant of airports, hotels, photo sessions and smart ass quips with journalists who questioned the band repeatedly on the shelf life of their popularity.
Ahead of John Lennon’s innocuous remarks about the Beatles popularity being larger than Christianity (taken out of context by so many), Ron Howard manages to adequately address the abominable prejudices of segregation and the escalation of the Vietnam War against a non-stop exhaustive schedule of touring that finally hit the proverbial wall with the August 1966 Candlestick Park concert in San Francisco.
Curiously, musician Elvis Costello and actress Whoopi Goldberg share their memories of attending performances where the band literally could not even hear onstage what they were playing. I wasn’t sure actress Sigourney Weaver’s presence was required, as I largely forgot what she had to contribute. But Goldberg’s story was poignant.
As the San Francisco concert ended, an armored truck was used to safely remove the band from the stadium, and that was the end of the spectacle the band became tired of.
A surprise for me was to experience the next phase of The Beatles – the studio where they relished having the security and privacy to create new musical directions.
We learn of the true feelings of the band filming “Help”, and that a third motion picture had been cancelled, giving the boys a three month relaxation period from the non-stop mania of celebrity.
While striking a slightly sad tone, the band went on to record five more albums before their January 1969 final live appearance on the roof of the Apple Corp, building (which was surprisingly included with three songs).
True to the opening frame, as credits ran with a dedication to the memory of producer George Martin, and no less than 50 performed songs listed, the restored Shea Stadium concert with eight cameramen was included. Mercifully, we are immersed in the sound from directly in front of the stage and not what the audiences heard that night through large cone-shaped metal public address speakers.
The film ends as it began, with a powerful reminder in another harsh age just what a true phenomenon The Beatles were and remain today.