Eight Days a Week: The Beatles, Hope, and Chaos



Directed by Ron Howard

Apple Corporation/Hulu, 97 minutes, PG.





Like many people my age, The Beatles rocked my world. I was too young for Elvis and the pop music of the early ‘60s was so naff that I wasn’t sure what my pre-teen self was seeing when The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It didn’t take long to fathom that music was undergoing a seismic shift. Whatever one thinks now, it’s hard to exaggerate how profoundly The Beatles altered the musical landscape.


The documentary Eight Days a Week first appeared in 2016. It won a Grammy for Best Music Film and a few Emmy Awards (sound editing, sound mixing), but didn’t have a broad theatrical run in North America due to the decline of independent cinemas and the generic preferences of mall theaters. If you’ve not seen Eight Days a Week, you should. That’s especially the case if you’ve seen either A Hard Day’s Night or Help. Both of those were directed by Richard Lester, who reminds us that though the lads had a blast making the films, it didn’t take a creative genius to imagine the mayhem depicted in them.


Eight Days a Week mostly covers the years 1962-66, when The Beatles were at their peak popularity, dominated the pop charts, and toured constantly. You will notice it’s rated PG. The Beatles were a breath of fresh air in the United States. The arrived in 1964, just 11 weeks after President Kennedy’s assassination. Many elders were horrified, but their mop top haircuts, Edwardian suits, goofy charm, and earworm music exuded innocence and restoration for millions of young people. Director Ron Howard’s film captures this, along with what might be called safety valve hysteria, a combination mob scene and screamfest. Ringo recalls that the 1966 Shea Stadium show was so loud and the sound production so primitive–amps were funneled through the stadium’s PA system—that he couldn’t hear a thing and needed visual cues from his bandmates to figure out the beat.


Luckily for us that Giles Martin–son of The Beatles’ late producer George Martin–remastered the soundtrack. Also lucky for us, Howard worked with Apple. Ever notice how many music documentaries have short bursts of the original songs that are often sung by someone else? That’s because securing rights without paying a king’s ransom in royalties must fall within strict fair use standards. Howard had no such restraints. He also got permission to mine archival material from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, plus Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison. This makes Howard’s film a musical treat and opens windows for revelations.


He stumbles on the revelations; it’s hard to say anything new about a band so well covered. We know, for instance, that The Beatles didn’t come from “nowhere;” three of them had been playing since they were teens. We know about their Berlin gigs and that Ringo replaced Pete Best as drummer and became a stabilizing force. We’ve also heard them credit Brian Epstein with remaking their image. We even know about the mania that followed the band wherever they went. Seeing it on film, though–carefully curated and edited by Paul Crowder–certainly makes one wonder how the four tolerated the craziness.


The answer is that The Beatles were young. Eight Days a Week is also a boys-to-men film. Being mobbed by teenaged (or not!) groping girls when you’re 21 is one thing; it wears thin when you hit the mid-20s. Howard suggests that The Beatles were loved to death. Their August 29, 1966, Candlestick Park show is often cited as their last concert. That’s not quite true; Howard’s film ends with a coda of their January 29, 1969, rooftop concert atop Apple Corps–literally the last time The Beatles played live. After Candlestick, though, they stopped touring. Paul recalled they were so weary by 1966, that they went into the studio, chose not to be The Beatles, and were reborn as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band.


Like most documentaries, this one has talking heads. The archival interviews and commentary stand out more, though Whoopi Goldberg speaks very eloquently of how the band represented a giddy moment of color-blind hope that she cherishes to this day. Some of the others–Eddie Izzard, Elvis Costello, touring manager Neil Aspinall–say about what you’d expect, and I’m not sure why gadfly Malcolm Gladwell was interviewed. Mostly, the film moves at a fast clip in keeping with how the ambiguously labeled “Sixties” unfolded. I often used images and clips of the 1962 and 1967 Beatles to drive home to students the speed of social change during the decade. Indeed, it wasn’t just The Beatles who were pushed to the edge by that surging surf. See Eight Days a Week–available on DVD or streaming–and realize what I mean, as you sing along to some of the most infectious songs ever recorded.


Rob Weir

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