In the first few minutes of the Ron Howard rockumentary “Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years”, Paul McCartney is asked by a reporter in 1964, “what place do you think this story of The Beatles will have in the history of western culture?” His answer: “You must be kidding. It’s not a culture, it’s a good laugh”.
As usual, The Beatles get the last laugh in the film and in real life, in Howard’s primarily behind-the-scenes romp through Beatlemania. The film ranked number one in the specialty box office category its opening weekend, taking in $615K via showings at mostly specialty theaters. Hundreds of cities across America didn’t have the film to show, so fans in those cities had no ticket-to-see the film and have to catch it streaming on HULU (with a free trial), where it’s currently showing (minus the bonus Shea Stadium concert).
U.S. Beatle fans get the most Fab for their Hard Day’s dollar, as the film highlights mainly concerts in America from ’64-’66. Some fans have groused on social media the lack of kudos to Pete Best (The Beatles original drummer), but truth is, the film is set around the touring years of 1963-66. Pete was dismissed from the band in August of ’62, months before the group had their first top 40 hit. Pete’s dismissal is addressed in The Beatles Anthology and keen eyes can spot him in one Cavern Club shot. Instead of talking about what’s missing, we can celebrate something new, like the serious press interview with the hilarious George Harrison flicking his ashes on John’s head. My theater roared with laughter when that scene hit the screen.
As for other new footage, so much has been mined in previous documentaries: “The Beatles Anthology”, the Harrison doc “Living in The Material World”, “Imagine: John Lennon” in 1988, “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA”, the Maysles’ Brother’s Beatles invasion film, and even going to the one many feel presented the most honest portrayal of the band, “The Compleat Beatles” from 1982, which for years aired on PBS but went out of print when it was reportedly purchased by Paul McCartney. So while it was understandably hard to give us too much new footage, one scene that couldn’t be explained, but wowed the audience, yours truly included, was a crowd of several thousand men and boys singing “She Loves You” acapella in a large field.
What’s hard to explain is why The Beatles first Ed Sullivan performance looked fuzzy and washed out, when a crystal clear print lives on DVD and was shown in The Beatles Anthology. Perhaps Sofa Entertainment didn’t give Apple clearance for this really big shoe? Similarly, The Washington DC concert, though colorized, also looks fuzzy on the big screen, but so many of those memories are themselves fuzzy, that it’s nice to have them appear now to refresh the memory for us and introduce them to new Beatle fans.
What the film does provide, and rather generously, are clips supplied by fans, from The Hollywood Bowl and Candlestick Park concerts. Howard tells the story of one fan in San Francisco calling in to inform him that she had some undeveloped film of The Beatles final concert at Candelstick Park under her bed, and would he like to see what’s on it. Even Opie would say “yes” to that one, so we end up with a shaky shot of the often-described silver Loomis van hauling The Boys away from their final concert, August 29, 1966.
As a fan, there are a few sidesteps in the film that seem out of place. Ron Howard included interviews and comments from many part-time Beatle fans and talking heads: Sigourney Weaver, playwright Malcolm Gladwell, author John Savage, Elvis Costello, roadie Ed Freeman, comedians Eddie Izzard & Whoopie Goldberg and others. Some of these are a good fit, but most are a distraction. In a pre-premiere interview for the film, we hear Ringo say “there was a lot of other people doing a lot of talking, which I believe he’s cut out (Howard)”. But despite Ringo’s plea, much remains and felt disjointed and forced.
The personal racial integration story from Jacksonville told by Kitty Oliver was well placed as was composer Howard Goodall, who spoke on The Beatles as composers. Perhaps this little report featuring Meryl Streep at Shea Stadium would have been a nice addition.
One interview that was welcome was former WFUN Miami radio newsman, Larry Kane, who traveled with The Beatles on their ’64, ’65 and part of their 1966 American tours. It was especially FUN for me, having grown up in Miami listening to Fun-79 for Top 40 hits, including lots of Beatle tunes. In 2002 I came across some long-lost reel to reel tapes of Larry’s Beatle reports and contacted him, which resulted in Larry writing his highly acclaimed book, “Ticket to Ride” in 2003.
Larry was the one reporter who kept The Beatles on their toes, asking them questions about the assassination of JFK, racial integration in Jacksonville, FL and other more thought provoking questions while phoning in syndicated reports from the road or on the plane, as was often the case. Larry finally gets his due from Paul and Ringo as a bonafied part of the story and was invited to attend the London premiere. Hear my interview with Larry Kane on those mania days.
We also hear Paul sticking to his story of The Beatles being headstrong on “not coming to America until they had a #1 hit”, which is contradicted by Ringo in press interviews for the film, in The Beatles Anthology and by historians who study recording and booking dates, but it’s a nice, romantic invasion story and fits the puzzle nicely.
Fact: Ed Sullivan saw The Beatles at London Airport returning from Sweden on October 31st, 1963. They had recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand” which would become their first American #1, just 11 days earlier. They were booked to play Sullivan long before the song even charted, and as historian Dave Schwensen pointed out, they were booked by Sid Bernstein to play Carnegie Hall before that.
One of the benefits of seeing the film in the theater is witnessing the first ever showing of the restored Shea Stadium concert from 1965. Giles Martin helped bring back the audio (where it was initially overdubbed in the studio), then restored Ringo’s original vocal on “Act Naturally”, plus they’ve added back one song missing from the film, “She’s a Woman”, which plays after the concert closer, “I’m Down”, but omitted George’s vocal performance on “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”.
The film ends with some rarely heard banter from The Beatles 1963 Christmas Message to the fans (edited), which was only officially released only to The Beatles fan club members in the 60’s but has been widely bootlegged.
Overall, “Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” is an enjoyable experience. I’ve seen it three times and with each viewing, find “Something New” to enjoy, so we can all be excited when more interviews and stories come out on the the DVD or blu ray on Black Friday, November 25th, featuring a 2-disc set with more than 100 minutes of extras. To get the the fans review NOW, join The Beatle Brunch Club and hear my special Brunch recap of the film, plus Beatle Brunch programs going back many years from now. I’ll see you on the radio. Well, that’s about all I think.