“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week– The Touring Years”
directed by Ron Howard
written by Mark Monroe
edited by Paul Crowder
presented by Abramorama; streaming video on-demand on Hulu
running time: 106 minutes
by Bill Stamets
What was the world of The Beatles? “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week– The Touring Years” answers with an often insightful and always entertaining documentary. American director Ron Howard contextualizes the concerts that took John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr from the clubs of Liverpool and Hamburg to the world via records, radio and television.
From June 1962 to August 1966, the British pop group played 166 concerts in 15 countries and 90 cities, by a count included in press notes. “We just want to play. Playing was the most important thing,” says drummer Starr, who attests: “We had the worst [record] deal in the world… You got to remember we made our money playing live.”
“By the end it became quite complicated, but at the beginning things were really simple,” relates singer, songwriter and bass guitarist McCartney. His late bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison are well represented thanks to a vast trove of archival clips.
“The Beatles were kind of the dream of how you might be with your friends as you went through life,” offers screenwriter Richard Curtis, an English fan since boyhood. Howard, writer Mark Monroe and editor Paul Crowder bring in few talking heads to interpret the “14-year-old in 1964.” Author Malcolm Gladwell posits: “Quite literally, this society is dominated by teenagers… What you’re seeing is the emergence of this international teen culture.”
Sigourney Weaver was one of those 14-year-olds. She went to a Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl on August 23, 1964. “I felt as much a girl can feel. I was in love with John,” she recalls. “It was this sense of world music. We were all loving them all over the world.”
A 15-year-old Florida girl got a ticket to the September 11, 1964 concert in Jacksonville. The Beatles’ contract stipulated no segregated gigs, so the Gator Bowl admitted its first integrated audience, some two months after the Civil Rights Act passed. Kitty Oliver, a Fab Four fan turned jazz singer and oral historian, recollects on camera her thrill at that historic occasion, one that did not, though, make its way into her book “Multicolored Memories of a Black Southern Girl.”
Besides copious clips, Howard samples 16mm news footage from press events during international tours. Dealing with screaming fans and inane questions took its toll. “What do you dream of when you sleep?” asked someone at a June 26, 1966 session in Hamburg. “We’re only the same as you, man, only we’re rich,” responded Lennon, according to a transcription of the recording at www.beatlesinterviews.org.
Part of the ensuing exchange makes its way into “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week– The Touring Years”:
FEMALE: “Why are you all so horrid snobby?”
JOHN: “Because we’re not flattering you.”
PAUL: “You know… You expect, sort of, nice answers to ALL the questions. But if the questions aren’t nice questions, they don’t have to have nice answers. And if we don’t give nice answers, it doesn’t mean we’re snobby. It just means we’re natural.”
A later passage reveals more of the tour dynamic:
Q: “You’re successful now for many, many years. Are you sometimes very tired about it?”
PAUL: “No, I don’t think… You know, if we were tired then we’d stop, because there’s no need to. We’ve started out wanting money like everybody else. But when you get money, you don’t HAVE to go on, you know. But we only go on ‘cuz we enjoy it. We enjoy making records and we enjoy singing, and things. That’s the only reason. And having money as well, but the other one is the main reason.”
The Beatles stopped touring because it stopped being fun. The last show was in Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. The lads had played a total of 815 sets– playing up to eight hours a day at the beginning. As musicians they had grown up. The best way to creatively keep together was to gather in a recording studio. Cue such albums as “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” The last one was “Let it Be.” They split up in 1970.