‘Eight Days A Week — The Touring Years’ offers a ticket to ride!
Fifty years ago, on Aug. 29, 1966, the Beatles took the stage for the last performance of their U.S. tour. What no one lucky enough to have tickets to the Candlestick Park show realized is that they were seeing not just the greatest band of all time. But, they were seeing the consummate band play their last organized show ever.
Overworked, exhausted and finished with the mass hysteria known as “Beatlemania,” the Fab Four resolved to focus on their studio albums and put aside the coventional means of promoting their music. Famed director Ron Howard has chronicled the Beatles touring joys and nightmares in “Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years,” a new documentary that premiered Sept. 15 at select theaters and will debut on Hulu on Sept. 17.
Howard is a master storyteller and when I heard he was tackling my favorite subject — the Beatles — I knew I had to see it on the big screen.
I’ve loved the Beatles for about as long as I can remember. At 34, I was born 12 years after the Beatles disbanded, but their music is woven throughout my life. This film gives me something I never knew I’d have the opportunity to do — see the Beatles in a theater.
The film is exquisitely crafted, and true to form, Howard forges a wonderful narrative. He takes us from the band’s start at the now legendary Cavern Club, the place where young people danced closely to raw rock ‘n’ roll and the pre-Ringo Beatles donned leather biker jackets. We see their Hamburg days, when they started sporting the mop tops and where the drummer who would complete the Fab Four sat in with the group for the first time.
We see the frenzy begin as the Beatles conquer the charts in England, in France and finally when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hits #1 in America. We see airport footage and interviews as the group makes their way to the Plaza and cement their place in history on the Ed Sullivan Show. Just a few months after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Beatles’ music gives young people hope and joy once again.
Howard has painstakingly restored much of the grainy footage that many fans have seen so countless times before, but in “Eight Days,” it looks crisp. Clear. Like seeing it for the first time. The jam-packed tour schedule at one point had the Beatles playing 25 shows in 30 days. The film mostly focuses on June 1962 to August 1966, when the Beatles performed 815 times in 90 different cities in 15 countries.
But, as Ringo said early in the film:
“We just wanted to play. Playing was the most important thing.”
As Beatlemania reached its apex, the group became increasingly discontent. The fanatical shrieking spectators were causing the quality of their music to deteriorate and it became more of a circus than a spotlight on the music. Ringo reiterated in “Eight Days” that he often couldn’t tell where they were in a song and that he watched Paul and John’s backsides to gauge the tempo and beat.
Elvis Costello, one of the film’s interviewees, said he’s amazed the group was able to stay in tune despite the frenzied roar of the crowd. In the newly restored, 4K Shea Stadium footage, John speaks gibberish while introducing a song, yet the crowd couldn’t care less. Tears continue to flow freely, wails get louder and many teen girls faint in the presence of their idols.
The film sheds specific light on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The Beatles agreed unanimously not to play venues that segregated their audience. They felt their music was for everyone and said Great Britain didn’t discriminate against who could attend their shows. Performances at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville opened the door for integrated shows in the South. One woman recalled that the concert was one of the first times she stood side by side with whites in a public place. And that it was wonderful just enjoying the music together — as people.
The Beatles have a way of bringing communities and nations together like no other band, no other figure in popular culture. Whoopi Goldberg, another interviewee, said the Beatles were “colorless.” She didn’t have to act a certain way or have a certain skin color to enjoy their music.
We drove an hour to see “Eight Days” in an arts theater. As I waited in line, I noticed the same thing I have while attending Paul McCartney’s shows. There’s no one particular group of fans. Age, socio-economic status, color, none of it matters. Despite what some early, archetypal promoters in the film thought, there was never a time when the band “faded.” They weren’t a flash in the pan, nor a passing trend. The Beatles will continue to endure, they are not only colorless, but timeless. Fifty years from now, we’ll still be celebrating the lyrics. The genius progressions. The ideas. The music.
For listings of showtimes, visit THIS SITE. “Eight Days A Week — The Touring Years” will begin streaming on Hulu on Sept. 17. A new live album “The Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl” has also been released to coincide with the film.