Ron Howard's Beatles doc gets us in the heads of an overworked band
"Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years" does more than tell you about a band so great and so old that millennials might not know them.
‘The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years’
Director: Ron Howard
3 (out of 5) Globes
Do The Beatles need another documentary? Maybe! Someone forgot to tell millennials about the Fab Four, and so the greatest, most famous band in history might be finally on the verge of becoming as well known as ELO or Van Der Graaf Generator. Isn’t Paul McCartney that guy who worked with Kanye once? It’s a drag getting these earthquaking reminders every few years, offering us the shocking news that some band that everyone knows is great and you should listen to them and please eat your vegetables. It’s also important; there will be a time, if we’re not there now, when everyone doesn’t know them. As they say, you die twice: When you actually die, and the last time someone speaks your name. And The Beatles deserve at least another few generations of hyperbole.
Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” could be another drag. And at first it is. We meet The Beatles in their infancy, then speed along through all the juicy, fascinating stuff; their stint as a Hamburg house band playing eight-hour shows gets about a minute. It can feel like a Cliffs Notes version of the epic TV doc series “The Beatles Anthology” — although, again, that was 20 years ago, and most people today weren’t alive then.
But once four randos from Liverpool are suddenly the most famous randos on earth, what seemed like a liability becomes a perk. The speed starts to help. It keeps it focused. And it gets us in the heads of people who were in the eye of a storm they didn’t fully realize they started. As the title threatens, Howard doesn’t try to cram 10 years of furious and diverse work in only 97 minutes. It’s only the six years Paul, George, John and Ringo spent as a furious live band, ending right before "Sgt. Pepper." We hear stories of themplaying over-scheduled (and soon over-crowded) shows so hectic and so lousy with deafening fans that you can’t fault them for deciding, in 1966, to spend their remaining years locked away in a studio, playing live only once more. Till then it’s one gig after another after another, etc. Somehow they earmarked a few hours here and there to write and record some of the most beautiful music in history.
Howard’s movie captures something of that madness, staying (mostly) on track and playing like a rushed blur, as this life must have felt to its stars. It’s short on great stories, or at least stories fans have heard elsewhere. Paul and Ringo mostly stick to generalities. (“We had to have faith in each other,” “In the end it was quite complicated, but in the beginning it was quite simple.”) The token celeb fans have their share of “top this!” gushing; it’s one of the least known, songwriter Howard Goodall, who claims they were better than Schubert, which at least won’t stir as many feathers as John Lennon saying they were more famous than Jesus.
Some of them, though, have actual stories, including Whoopi Goldberg, who tells of how her mom dragged her to the Bronx one morning in 1965, not telling her they were about to see The Beatles’ legendary Shea Stadium gig. It’s a basic film, meant to reignite interest in a band that shouldn’t, but probably does, need it. It’s also just specific enough to do something that no other Fab Four fan service has done before.