With many classic rock ‘n’ roll artists approaching the twilight years of their careers, a few are finally opting to tell their life stories either through autobiographies or full-blown documentaries on television and film. While several legendary bands, like Rush, the Eagles and Genesis, have released feature-length documentaries to massive fanfare from fans and critics, one interesting hold out is from a band that could have easily set the standard for rock documentaries—The Beatles. Aside from their overall story being regurgitated repeatedly in various mediums other than film and television, the fact that there are only two surviving members of the band hinders the possibility of such a standard. Academy Award-winning director and longtime Beatles fan Ron Howard knew this when he decided to tackle the Fab Four in a new Hulu-exclusive documentary, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years.
Rather than talk about the band’s history in general, he decided to cover one specific era of The Beatles that is hardly touched upon—their all-too-brief touring era from 1962 to 1966. Howard takes viewers on a journey into one of the pivotal moments of modern pop culture, starting with their early days playing at the Cavern Nightclub in their native Liverpool, England in 1962 and ending at their last-ever public show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966.
Throughout the movie, the target audience seemed to be millennials who may inexplicably be unfamiliar with the band, their music and its impact on pop culture. If the viewer is all-too-familiar with The Beatles, however, there is still something for the longtime fan to enjoy in Eight Days A Week. While many images from the touring years are ingrained into the public’s consciousness, there is still a lot of never-before-seen footage that appears in the film.
One notable inclusion is long-forgotten film footage from their legendary gigs in New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966, one of the first rock concerts to be held in a major league sports stadium. The two surviving members of The Beatles, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, contributed new interviews for Howard, recollecting those wild tales from the road. Instead of a retelling of the past for historical purposes, the stories came off as casually remembering the good old days in a manner akin to a meeting between friends. Additional archival footage of late members John Lennon and George Harrison also add a new layer to the retrospective.
Since the movie was co-produced by Apple Corps, The Beatles’ official private company, no mention of misbehaviors or creative differences ever come to light. Save for the infamous “more popular than Jesus” quote from Lennon and the stateside controversy that it spawned, hardly any negative elements from both this period and after are acknowledged. If there is one element of The Beatles that is as well-known as their musical achievements, it is their highly acrimonious break up that still leaves people wondering what exactly went wrong. Several names, like original bassist Stu Sutcliffe and original drummer Pete Best, both of whom left the band shortly before the film’s time period, are hardly mentioned. The death of their beloved manager Brian Epstein shortly after going off the road for good in 1966 is also glossed over completely.
The tumultuous personal lives of the four members are also brushed under the rug. With the scars and fallout from the break up and other personal woes during The Beatles’ run still ringing with McCartney and Starr, the decision to focus only on their early years of fame on the road made for a much more optimistic look at the band that matches the tune of the upbeat greatest hits soundtrack that dominates over the movie. For all the memories involving the music and shows, the most surprising anecdote that McCartney and Starr gave had nothing to do with artistry, but rather with politics. Specifically, it was about one show at the Gator Bowl Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida during their first U.S. tour in 1964.
When the band discovered that it was to play before a racially segregated audience, they refused to take stage unless the venue abolished its segregation policy. Considering that the U.S. Civil Rights Movement was rapidly gaining momentum at that time, the support of the biggest music act at that time, a non-American act no less, gave the movement a huge boost in credibility. Whether or not this becomes the de facto documentary about The Beatles remains to be seen. As it is, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years is a satisfyingly refreshing look at the band’s history.
If the documentary is not enough to sate the public’s never-ending appetite for Beatlemania, the band’s long-out-of-print 1977 live album, Live at the Hollywood Bowl has recently been digitally remastered and expanded for a long overdue reissue as the movie’s audio companion.