When it was announced last year, Ron Howard’s documentary about The Beatles’ first years of global success seemed like the last thing the world needed. This is a story that has been told and told and told on the page and on the screen. Didn’t the 10-hour Beatles Anthology negate the need for any new documentaries on the topic of Fabness for all days to come?
Taking Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years on its own merits probably won’t alter that initial assumption much. Despite its near improbable subtitle The Band You Know. The Story You Don’t. there is basically nothing in this movie that will be new to even the most casual fan. There isn’t even much story here. Howard assembles his film in chaotic fashion, with the band (Paul and Ringo in recent footage; John and George in vintage, obviously), their coworkers (George Martin, Neil Aspinall, journalist and biographer Larry Kane), and fans (Whoopie Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Sigourney Weaver) providing scattershot impressions of the usual subtopics: America, Beatlemaniacs, Brian Epstein, filmmaking, friendship, songwriting, recording, Shea Stadium, “bigger than Jesus,” etc. The footage is often familiar too, though one clip of a huge crowd of Liverpudlian football fans, who look like they could take a kick to the teeth as well as they could dish one out, all singing “She Loves You” was new to me and utterly delightful.
The information is so basic that I can only assume that Howard intended his film to be a primer for potential new fans, though I really wonder how much this material will move fans of contemporary pop. I hope it will move them, because the one major merit of Howard’s film is it gives a very clear sense of the hope and joy The Beatles brought to the world in their time. And if there is one thing our world can really use right now is hope and joy. Also of contemporary value is the extended focus on The Beatles’ rejection of segregation at their shows, their refusal to treat fans of any color or culture differently than anyone else. That kind of understanding, that clear idea of what is fundamentally right and what is fundamentally wrong is something else the world really, really needs right now.
Apple/UMe’s new blu-ray of Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years arrives with a bonus disc with another feature film’s worth of supplements. There are clips of performances of five songs. Featurettes expand on the feature’s discussions of the Lennon/McCartney partnership, the way The Beatles revolutionized music and culture, Shea Stadium, A Hard Day’s Night, and their visits to Australia and Japan won’t enlighten long-term fans much more than the proper film will, though there are some interesting sideroads, such as Peter Asher’s discussion of his Peter and Gordon getting in on the Lennon/McCartney goldmine, Tony Bennett’s son’s recollections of seeing The Beatles at Shea, and Ronnie Spector’s memories of meeting the guys she classified as "four foxes" and going shopping with them on Carnaby Street.