Ron Howard's return to documentary making is as mesmerizing as one could hope, especially when the subject matter is The Beatles.
For this to be Ron Howard’s second foray in documentary filmmaking is astounding. To take on documenting The Beatles is one thing, but to delve into a part of the band that is rarely talked about is even more courageous. But Howard does what he does best, and pulls you straight into the exciting beginnings and eventual weariness that was The Beatles short touring years before the screaming became too much.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week follows The Beatles during their touring years from 1962-1966. Starting off in Germany, the film chronicles the initial highs and eventual lows of The Beatles seemingly infinite touring schedule, to their eventual final show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1966.
The documentary itself is a combination of new interviews with surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, whilst interweaving interviews with the late John Lennon and George Harrison placed so intricately that you’d think they were being interviewed now as opposed to before they passed.
There are also a handful of surprise appearances from a range of famous faces, the highlights being Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver- two actresses that I was more than happy to see pop up in this documentary, both of whom I had no idea were both huge Beatles fans. Especially Goldberg, who recalls a heartwarming memory of The Beatles coming to New York to perform at Shea Stadium and her mother taking her as a surprise, even though they originally didn’t have enough money for the tickets.
Since this is Howard’s second documentary, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He is a master at his craft, but documentary filmmaking can be a huge undertaking for someone who isn’t particularly familiar with it. As a point of reference, I went into this film with Scorsese’s 2011 documentary on George Harrison in mind. Both films are by acclaimed directors who aren’t necessarily known for their documentarian capabilities, and I’m happy to say that Eight Days a Week is easily on the same bar of excellence of Scorsese’s effort at capturing the essence of Harrison.
Howard certainly captures The Beatles essence extremely well, by making sure that each member has equal say in regards to how the touring years took their toll on them. It’s through this that we find out how it was Harrison who was the first to fold under the constant stress, but didn’t outright tell the rest of the band that they should end it. As McCartney says, “We’re individuals, but we make up together The Mates, which is one person. If one of us, one side of the mates, leans over one way we all go with him or we pull back”.
The film also draws intimate focus on manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin’s important involvement with the band; Howard makes sure to point out that if it weren’t for either of the two, The Beatles certainly wouldn’t be the legendary band that they are to this day.
Many factors contributed to the band’s decision to end touring; the increasingly unruly crowds, the never-ending screams, the lack of vacation time and the ultimate realization that not only could they not hear their own music, but the audience weren’t paying much attention to it either. And how could they with the sheer amount of screaming, fainting and near carnage that their stadium shows caused. I don’t know if it was my sensitive hearing or if the screening I saw had the volume turned up louder for an ‘immersive experience’, but I for one could certainly not perform under the circumstances that The Beatles did. I don’t know how they managed to perform live for as long as they did, the sound of the screaming alone was painful enough in the cinema.
The highlight of Eight Days a Week was certainly the restoration of footage. A majority of the concert footage was shot on Super 8 film, but by some technical wizardry, the footage was restored to such a high quality that certainly hasn’t been seen before, even going as far as colorising a variety of concert and interview footage when appropriate.
Howard also doesn’t let the legacy of The Beatles discography or filmography slide, by utilizing the makings of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! as small catalysts to their final decision in regards to touring, and how Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was in essence the band distancing themselves away from the limelight by donning alter egos to give them the freedom to experiment musically.
Ron Howard has certainly made his mark in documentary filmmaking with Eight Days a Week, and I for one hope that he has many other documentaries up his sleeve in the near future.