ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (2016) 2 Disc Special Edition Blu Ray (Studiocanal)
This documentary by Ron Howard follows The Beatles during (as the name suggests) their live tours via digitally remastered footage from a number of their concerts. In between and voiced over this footage are a mixture of brand new and archive interviews with the band (the former with the 2 surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr), journalist Larry Kane (who followed them throughout both of their American tours), Neil Aspinall, Richard Lester and a few longtime celebrity fans including Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard and Sigourney Weaver. The journey is also fleshed out with some newsreel footage of the surrounding era, memorabilia such as photoshoots and album covers, and subtle CGI embellishments.
We start from their early days with them playing their hometown of Liverpool, their graduation to playing the infamous Reeperbahn circuit, and their breakthrough in 1963 with what was known in the U.K. as “Beatlemania”. We then follow them through the party (breaking the U.S. and other countries around the world) and the hangover (their inherent difficulties that come with being the world’s biggest band, thus being dogged by press and fans at every turn). We also get a look into their upbringing, the historical background into which they emerged, the significance of manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin in their career, their brushes with controversy, and the endless creativity that they displayed in their music.
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While Eight Days a Week doesn’t really say much that hasn't been said before, it has been pieced together from its widely-sourced component parts in a way that carries the viewer along in the dizzying whirlwind of their ever-evolving success story. We get a real sense of how massive they were at the time, and more importantly, why they were so massive. However, while the film is wholly upbeat in feel and doesn’t get overwhelmingly dark, it still keeps its feet on the ground and acknowledges that even this monumentally successful band had its ups and downs. We hear that, as the years went on, the constant touring and surrounding media frenzy (they found that they were “like politicians, switched on 24 hours a day” according to Lennon) started to lose its lustre. At the end of a concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco (August 1966), after a rather unpleasant experience being driven away in an armoured car to avoid being mobbed by fans, they vowed never to tour again. Indeed from that moment on they became solely a studio-recorded music band bar one notable performance on the roof of the London Apple Office on the 30th January 1969. We also take a look at their then-progressive views that would occasionally result in run-ins with the establishment - for example their threats to refuse to play a 1964 show in Jacksonville, Florida as the organisers proposed that it would be racially segregated (though in the event it wasn’t). When John Lennon proclaimed that The Beatles were “bigger than Jesus” it caused waves of protests and record-smashing across the U.S. Bible Belt, losing them a chunk of their fanbase.
Of course the highlights here are the remastered live concerts. The footage is of variable quality but often looks so good that it could have been shot yesterday. A particularly nice moment occurs when Sigourney Weaver is interviewed; we catch a glimpse of her in the crowd at one of the gigs, screaming along with the rest of them. It’s a particularly fine illustrative example of how well-researched and assembled this documentary is.
Runtime: 105 mins
Dir: Ron Howard
As it’s a documentary the visual quality here is heavily dictated by the quality of the underlying footage provided. That said, it often looks wonderful, and the defining psychedelic colour schemes of the era come through in all of their nostalgic glory.
The LPCM Stereo 2.0 soundtrack does justice to the Beatles’ energetic music and the surrounding crowd screams during the live gigs, creating a genuinely immersive atmosphere. Very nice indeed.
This 2 Disc Special Edition is a veritable treasure trove.
Firstly, there is a glossy booklet featuring an introduction by Ron Howard describing how and why he decided to get involved in the documentary, including the revelation that many of the artefacts and film clips featured were the fruits of a call-out made to fans in 2014. The Candlestick Park footage was reportedly thought lost until a lady living in San Francisco came forward with the confession that she had it in her private collection! The most interesting part of Howard’s essay involves him describing the conditions under which The Beatles toured; the scale of them was hitherto unheard-of, and there were a number of technical and environmental challenges which made their job particularly difficult.
The second essay on the booklet is an essay by journalist Jon Savage that examines their live years and delves into the strains of a packed touring schedule and the disconnect between the crowd-pleasing hits they performed on stage and the increasingly experimental music they were putting out on vinyl. While it follows the same historical trajectory as the film it does complement it well and act as a fine companion piece.
The extras on the second disc include several side-documentaries that explore The Beatles more widely as a band.
Words & Music
As the name suggests this one looks at the music itself and its influences (as well as American rock & roll there were roots in English folk and music hall, and traditional Indian music via the increasing George Harrison influence in later years). We also learn of their breaking of established studio rules to get the resultant innovative sounds.
Early Clues to a New Direction
A look at what drove The Beatles as a creative musical unit. They were a collective, democratic band with three exceptionally talented songwriters; something very rare at that time when pure solo artists or groups overtly fronted by a solo star were the norm. At the same time, the competition between these equal talents pushed them to ever-greater heights. We also look at the influence of Liverpool itself on them; Lennon's time spent mostly in the company of women (being a port city, most Liverpudlian men were constantly out to sea), and the humour that arose out of the place’s impoverished post-war state.
The Beatles Live 1963 - 1965
Five live songs performed in shows in Manchester, London, Melbourne and Blackpool.
A Deeper Dive
Some mini docs that delve further into certain sections of the Beatles' history, each one filled with fascinating revelations and vivid “in the moment” nostalgia. Here they are:
A more detailed look at the band's local following during their days at the Cavern Club.
Three Beatles Fans
Three fans: Candace Cushing, Debbie Gendler and Donna Constantinople reminisce about seeing The Beatles during their flagship American appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. They met the group backstage and were snapped in a photograph alongside them.
Ronnie Spector and The Beatles
Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes talks about their meeting and friendship with The Beatles, their time together in England, and The Beatles' first visit to the U.S. where they helped them get away from the mobbing adolescents.
Shooting "A Hard Day's Night"
A look at The Beatles' first film and how it reflected their lives as a band.
The Beatles in Australia
The rapturous reception and show at Adelaide 1964, on the final leg of their international tour, along with a commentary of the postwar "Baby Boom" generation where society was dominated by teens.
Recollections of Shea Stadium
Danny Bennett (son and manager of Tony) looks back at the band's Shea Stadium gig. This short doc includes brief bit of Danny's own 16mm camera footage.
The Beatles in Japan
An additional scene from the Japanese version of the film about their performance at The Budokan, where they received threats from a right-wing group due to the controversy surrounding their appearance at the venue (which was a traditional martial arts training centre). Photographer Shimpei Asai looks back and describes the miraculous connection they seemed to have with each other on stage.
The final extra is an alternative opening for the film featuring Malcolm Gladwell.
An excellent package that’s essential for anyone who likes The Beatles. It may not provide any radically new information of the band, but it does capture the essence of what made (and through their legacy, still makes) them so special.