Energetic 'Eight Days a Week' explores the ups and downs of Beatlemania

Posted September 18

“THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK — THE TOURING YEARS” — 3 stars — Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison; not rated; in general release

You probably won't learn much new about the Beatles from Ron Howard's new documentary "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years," but fans will still want to experience the director's energetic exploration of the Beatlemania era. Even if the story is well-known, the content is worth seeing on the big screen.

Even casual Beatles fans are mostly familiar with their 1960s narrative, and Howard swiftly hits all the key beats from their early era: the Cavern Club, Ed Sullivan, screaming girls, etc. Howard uses archival interview footage of George Harrison and John Lennon to complement brand-new material from surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and augments them with contemporaries such as director Richard Lester, who directed the band in "A Hard Days Night" and "Help," as well as Miami journalist Larry Kane, who got a firsthand experience with Beatlemania after joining the band on tour for an extended press run.

Early on, Howard contextualizes Beatlemania next to JFK's assassination and the civil rights movement (a sequence later on explains how the band's concert in Jacksonville, Florida, helped break down segregation rules for public performances in the South), but mostly “Eight Days a Week” paints a portrait of the Beatles’ own unique world.

Often the gems come in blink-and-you-miss-it moments such as watching Harrison secretly tap cigarette ash onto Lennon's head while he talks to a journalist or seeing black-and-white footage of a young Sigourney Weaver in the midst of a group of screaming fans. All the footage of screaming teenage girls would have you thinking the Beatles had a singular fan base, but one compelling shot captures thousands of male soccer fans in Liverpool swaying back and forth and singing "She Loves You."

Most fans are also familiar with how Beatlemania eventually burned out the band and led the Fab Four to quit the road and retreat to the studio permanently. What Howard's documentary does well is show this process instead of merely tell us about it. While the early clips show the band energetic and carefree in front of the press, eager to share their wit and charm, later footage is more confrontational, heavy on empty gazes, and only rarely shows anyone breaking a smile. By the end of the documentary, it's easy to understand why the band took to the refuge of Abbey Road, but for any fan familiar with what is to come — Sgt. Pepper, Yoko, etc. — "Eight Days A Week's" closing credits will leave viewers wishing Howard had a Part 2 already in the works.

Then again, "Eight Days a Week's" biggest draw may come after those credits. Following Howard's documentary, audiences can stick around for a 30-minute concert film built out of footage from the band's famous 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. For a band that ultimately became better known for what they did in the studio, watching them on stage (at least for longer than the token Ed Sullivan clips) feels like a revelation.

Notably, Howard also includes footage from the band's last "public" concert, which they performed on the top of Abbey Road studios in London in 1969. That show took place three years after their last tour ended in Candlestick Park and only five years from their debut on Sullivan, yet they look like they've all aged about 20 years. Consider: If the Beatles had appeared on Ed Sullivan in 2010, they'd already be finished with "Abbey Road" and "Let it Be" by now. The music may not have taken long to produce, but up on the screen, even 50 years later, it feels as fresh as ever.

"The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years" is not rated, but might draw a PG-13 for infrequent profanity, including two instances of the F-word.

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” is not rated; running time: 99 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.


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