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The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
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The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years
Directing: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

The Beatles were so inventive a band that their range of influence, to this day, can hardly be quantified. Their original music as a band lasted less than a decade, but the release of a boxed set thirty years later, or the use of their music for a Cirque du Soleil show forty years later, were still a big deal. And they actually went on world tours for all of three years -- between 1963 and 1966. That, specifically, is the subject of The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years, a rather fascinating documentary for major fans and casual fans alike.

A whole lot of early-era Beatles music is featured, of course, but much of it not of very high audio quality -- but that's basically the point. What director Ron Howard ultimately brings us to is how "Beatlemania" was the undoing of any effectiveness to their live shows. What's the point when the screaming of the crowd is so loud that you can't even hear the music?

The Beatles were the first band in history to go on a stadium tour -- tends of thousands of fans per show, local police forces in each city unprepared for unruly crowds. Having made crappy deals for album sales revenue, the tours were where they made their money. And they made a lot of it. The four band members are bemused at first, going along with the hysteria, treating it like a joke, as they did in their debut film, A Hard Day's Night. Just a few years later, their hit "Help!" featured lyrics the band members themselves describe as a reaction to a situation gone out of hand.

The vast majority of this film focuses on the Beatles themselves, but Howard also includes brief interviews with celebrity fans: Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard, Sigourney Weaver. In some cases the reason for their inclusion is somewhat of a mystery. Whoopi Goldberg does share a pretty fantastic story of her mother surprising her with tickets to their famous 1996 show at Shea Stadium in New York. The Beatles's 30 minute set from this show is presented in its entirety after the credits roll at the end of the movie. It holds an undeniable fascination in its historical context, but again, the music isn't all that well played -- because the noise made it impossible. They couldn't even hear themselves.

The film up to that point is more interesting. There's something sort of odd about it too, though, in that it feels like a prelude to a more interesting time in Beatles history: when they quit touring because they were sick of their shows being more spectacle than artistic performance, and focused solely on their studio work from then on, recording several albums widely regarded as among the best of all time. Where's that documentary? The Beatles may have had more enthusiasm among their fans in the early to mid sixties, but it's their later musical output that endures.

Indeed, one of the talking heads compares the Beatles to the likes of Mozart, in terms of their volume of inventiveness. And it's not hyperbole. Thus, there's something a little more sad than fun about Eight Days a Week. This is basically a movie about how their mere fame was nearly their undoing. The one comfort they had, evidently, was their closeness with each other. One of them mentions now bad he felt for Elvis, who had similar success before them -- but he was alone, and had no one else around who truly knew how he felt. This brings to mind Michael Jackson as well, the only artist after the Beatles to have success even remotely close to the same scale.

If nothing else, Eight Days a Week underscores how amazing these four men were together -- as artists, as performers, as writers and composers, particularly in the face of that kind of pressure. It happened to be during these touring years that a U.S. backlash occurred because of an offhand comment John Lennon made to a reporter about being more popular than Jesus. A comment like that would not be nearly as big a deal today (though it would likely still make headlines), but this was the sixties. And still their popularity easily transcended such things as conservative radio hosts burning piles of Beatles records. The Beatles transcend just about everything, in fact; they changed both rock and pop music forever, with their musical experimentation and irresistible hooks. But if anyone represents the way that level of success is a double edged sword, it's them.

the beatles - eight days a week - the touring years

Overall: B
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