You could never make an indie documentary about the Beatles — the music rights alone would make the project prohibitive.
The task has to fall to someone who, like the band itself, has the muscle and can paint on a big canvas. Ron Howard is that someone, and “Eight Days a Week,” which focuses on the band’s concert years from 1963-66, is an engaging, absorbing portrait of a moment in time.
The documentary (full title: “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years”) doesn’t break any new ground. But by using a wealth of found footage — rare concert film, interviews as well as new interviews of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Howard effectively shows how the Fab Four at first reveled in, then reviled the worldwide frenzy that accompanied their concert tours. As they were carted away from Candlestick Park in a metal truck fearing for their safety 50 years ago (Aug. 29, 1966) they decided they were done with concerts.
In their wake, they revolutionized the rock concert. They were the first to play at football stadiums, and because of the standard record contracts at the time that favored the labels, McCartney, Starr, and the late John Lennon and George Harrison made most of their money during those years on those concerts, despite a slew of No. 1 hits.
A few thoughts while watching “Eight Days a Week”:
▪ They were on the forefront of ending segregation at music concerts. When they found out a show in Jacksonville, Fla., was for whites only, the Beatles refused to play. Jacksonville relented, and they went on to perform before a mixed-race crowd. They later added a clause to their performing contracts that they would not perform at segregated shows. It was highly controversial, but that soon became the norm with all musical acts.
▪ They were so naturally great during press conferences. Rather than give monosyllabic answers and hide behind sunglasses, the Fab Four almost treated a press conference as a performance.
▪ Unfortunately, the 1960s was a terrible time for the preservation of TV shows. We already know nearly all of that decade’s Johnny Carson “Tonight Shows” were lost, and now we see that the surviving footage of the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan appearance is in terrible shape.
▪ The sparseness of a Beatles concert. Most of them, including the Candlestick Park finale, ran about 30 minutes and consisted of the four with their instruments. A decade later, bands such as Kiss would have elaborate, expensive stage sets requiring dozens of roadies, which is basically how it is today, except even bigger. Taylor Swift’s tour last year took place on a set that seemed as big as a small city.
▪ Though they were constantly on the road during the middle 1960s, the Beatles released a single every three months and an album every six months, like clockwork. And it was pretty much all great. Incredible.
▪ They were hated by a good portion of the United States, not only because of their outspoken stance on segregation, but an offhand comment to a journalist by Lennon that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus” got them condemned by churches across the country — leading to death threats and a bomb scare in Memphis.
To put all this together in a tidy package makes “Eight Days a Week” a must for any fan.
(At the Tivoli.)
‘The Beatles: Eight Days a Week’
Not rated. Time: 2:17.