Thursday, 3 November 2016

Beatlemania!



Ron Howard’s film The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, doesn’t reveal anything particularly new about the greatest band that ever was, especially not if you’re a fan, yet there is something about the film that feels fresh, new and different. It captures a spirit, an atmosphere, a sense of The Beatles and the era they were in, and it captures the heart.

Some of Ron Howard’s best films in recent years have pitted two great men against one another to create an exciting and highly engaging drama. Frost/Nixon was hypnotising and gripping and Rush was thrilling. It would have been easy and right up Howard’s alley to create a battle-of-the-giants kind of film and he would have made it excellent, but the rivalry between Paul and John has been quite open and public at the time it was happening and it was analysed to death later on. Howard has something else in mind and this film is not about who is the best Beatle (Paul!), it is not a film about individuals, a bit like his Apollo 13, this film is about The Beatles as a group.

On the face of it the film does very much what it says on the tin and focuses on the touring years. Being made by an all American filmmaker it comes as no surprise that most of the touring in the film refers to US tours. Unfortunately The Beatles' beginning in Liverpool and their defining trip to Hamburg are only mentioned briefly in the film and not really explored in depth. It seems that the Americans did take Beatlemania to the next level. 

However, The Beatles as a live phenomenon isn’t just about their concerts and Beatlemania, though that is a great deal of it, it is also about their public appearances, their popularity and their image as a naturally funny and fun band. Their photo shoots, films, their live presence and facial expressions and their interviews are all part of what made The Beatles a unique live band like no other. A great deal of what makes this film different is that Ron Howard doesn’t try to analyse The Beatles or explain much. Painstakingly collecting a treasure trove of archive and fan footages, he simply lets The Beatles be. With exceptional editing that weaves together current Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr interviews with archive George Harrison and John Lennon interviews, Howard manages to make the conversation flows over the years. It is as if they are all still in the room chatting and you still want to join the conversation. Like Whoopi Goldberg says in the film, you want to be their friend. Eight Days a Week transports you there and then and you find yourself with The Beatles and with their fans, the social and political events of the era in the background melting away the moment those four went on stage and became amazing.

While the images of screaming, crying and fainting ladies of the 1960s are familiar ones, especially when it comes to The Beatles, Eight Days a Week manages to put the viewer right in the middle of Beatlemania. The film goes into the crazed crowd and by playing the thin, barely recognisable and very real sound from the Shea Stadium, you get to experience Beatlemania as first hand as it can get and again Howard manages to make the familiar new and overwhelming.

At the beginning of the film Paul McCartney says that at the end things got complicated, but at the beginning it was simple. Eight Days a Week chooses to end when things got complicated, with Lennon’s famous remark about Jesus[1], which lead to burning of The Beatles records and the cringing and pointless apology interview that followed. There is something quite sad and at the same time wonderful in their last international performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and even more compelling is their rooftop performance on Savile Row at the end credits. Famously this was the end of the Beatles, yet there is still something quite magnificent in them somehow, all the behind-the-scene-drama doesn’t matter and for a brief moment they remind us that despite everything they were incredible.

The cinematic release of the film is accompanied by thirty minutes of incredible remastered footage of The Beatles live concert at the Shea Stadium, which takes you back to the magic. More than anything it is brilliant to see their faces and their dumbfounded expressions of disbelief at the masses and the hysteria when they were at the top. The post credit concert footage were probably the best live Beatles footage I have ever seen. It got close and personal and it was unbelievably amazing.  





[1] In one review that I read about this film the reviewer mentions that a more accurate blasphemy would have been to say they are bigger than Shakespeare was. I can't help wondering what would have been the result of that kind of a remark.