Documentary : Ron Howard's Beatles documentary

Ron Howard's Beatles documentary

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years (2016) / Ron Howard. A lively, fast-moving account of the Beatles’ three-some years of public performances and touring; it covers the time period from March 1963 through their last, listless world tour that began in August 1966. Other areas of the band’s career are either ignored, fast-forwarded through, or, in effect, covered-up. As for this last accusation, the cover-ups take place mostly in the reportage of their years of struggle and the final years before the break-up in 1970. The Beatles’ early growth as artists in Liverpool at the Cavern Club and in the strip clubs of Munich, Germany are zipped through in a montage of photos which give the impression that Ringo joined John, Paul, and George long before he actually did. There is also no mention at all of Pete Best or Stu Sutcliffe even though they appear in some of the photographs. Also, at the other end of the timeline, Yoko Ono and the Beatles’ final dissolution have been razored out of the picture. BUT…in spite of the lack of a lot of things I would have liked to have seen, what is here is an amazing retrospective. We all know about Beatlemania and all those screaming school girls making fools of themselves, but the enormity of the fandom, the history making magnitude, and its overall hysterical pitch needs to be reiterated. As one historian says: no other popular stars have ever received this kind of adulation, either in the numbers or in the intensity of the frenzy. Frank Sinatra had screaming girl fans (the “bobby soxers”) and Elvis Presley had an extremely large following but I don’t think either of them ever filled a sports stadium. It was a cultural phenomenon that had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. This kind of pressure, coupled with an increasing hostile press (Reporter: “What will you do when the bubble bursts?” John: “Have a laugh.”) began to tell on the Fab Four pretty early in the process. First John and then George began to talk openly about no more touring, even though the money they made from these public appearances far out-weighed the income from the recordings. The largest crowd they played for was in New York City’s Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965 where they faced a mind-bending 56,000 fans. Two later celebrities were in Shea Stadium that night. 9-year-old Whoopi Goldberg, who was a Beatles fan in the face of friends’ mockery, and 15-year-old Susan (later Sigourney) Weaver. Amazingly, cameras caught a brief glimpse of Weaver in the stands that night (which we get to see). Both Goldberg and Weaver comment on the experience. One of Ron Howard’s stated goals was to bring the Beatles’ story to a new generation, although if that will happen then the adults who lived through it may have to force their grandchildren to watch. The theater audience I was in was comprised entirely of Boomers. They enthusiastically applauded the film, but that is not going to educate the young’uns.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium (1966). Some showings of the Howard documentary were followed by a portion of this film shot for TV. It was originally 50 minutes long but only the last 30 minutes which comprise the Beatles' entire 10 song set was shown, having been digitally restored (the first 20 minutes were opening acts). The noise of the crowd was so great that the musicians could not hear each other playing and singing, yet stayed together and in tune and harmony throughout. A remarkable achievement in itself. Ringo, sitting at his drums, could only see the backs of his band mates so had to judge by their movements where they were in the song but he doesn't miss a beat. The audience had it pretty bad, too. Most of them were listening to the music via the stadium's 1960s grade PA system, the one that the broadcasters use to announce the next batter. It sounded terrible, not that it made any difference to the young women who were screaming and passing out. As for the Beatles, there can be no doubt of their talent and musicianship. The more I listened, the more I realized why I was NOT a rock star. Enchanting. Emotion grabbing. A lot of memories there for a lot of people.

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